Glorious Russian melodies
Joyce Guillaumier reviews Music From Russia by the Trio Lakota.
Natalia Filipenko (violin), Yaroslav Miklukho (cello) and Charlene Farrugia (piano), the members of the Trio Lakota, gave a remarkable concert last Sunday at St James Cavalier, Valletta.
They presented two exciting works, one composed by Dmitry Shostakovitch and the other by Sergei Rachmaninoff, two Russian composers who are so different in their outlook. Both works were inspired by death.
Shostakovitch commemorated Ivan Sollertinsky, his close friend and musicologist who had died a few months previously as well as the victims of the Holocaust of which he had no previous knowledge, while Rachmaninoff wrote a mournful elegy in remembrance of Piotr Ilich Tchaikovsky, whose loss he felt deeply and who had died in the same year (1893) as the elegy was written.
Shostakovitch’s work, the Piano Sonata Op. 67in E minor (1944) in four movements and Rachmaninoff’s Trio Elegiaque, Op. 9 no 2 in D minor in three movements gave ample opportunity to the three musicians to delve into the different psyche of the two composers. Shostakovitch had an almost maniacal drive, many times verging on the grotesque (when listening to his compositions one never knows whether his outbursts were genuine or whether he was being satirical).
Of course one must take into account the unreal world he was living in, trying to toe the line of the Soviet leaders without losing his individuality. On the other hand, Rachmaninoff’s grief was expressed in a more lyrical manner, creating an overwhelming atmosphere of gloom. His gift for melody and his rich tonal palette (even when writing for small ensembles) resulted in depth and sincerity marked by precision, clarity and a very clean technique.
Being an outstanding pianist, the piano was very much to the fore and pianist Charlene Farrugia played her heart out. She managed to instil interest from the very beginning of the Trio Elegiaque, expressing the mournful descending motif that pulled at our heartstrings.
The violin and the cello too had some extraordinary passages to interpret, with the violin confidently playing the highest register and the cello delivering unaccompanied rhythmic phrases, thus creating passages of beauty and poignancy leading to a violent end.
The second movement began with a hymn followed by eight variations. The theme was introduced by the pianist and the whole movement remained highly piano-centred. The last movement is a short one, rather giving the impression that Rachmaninoff had nothing else to say. The Shostakovitch Piano Trio Op. 67 was quite different. To prove that nothing is at it seems, the composer gave the highest notes in the highly dissonant introduction to the cello and the lowest ones to the piano. This was followed by a mad fugue requiring large amounts of technical prowess from the three musicians.
In fact, it was quite a feat for the string players to jump from one register to another; the movement turned quite violent towards the end.
The second movement was a frenzied dance, while the third one opened with repeated piano chords and faded into the last movement without a break. Perhaps it is because Shostakovitch is one of my favourite composers but I really enjoyed the trio’s interpretation, especially the fast pace in the Allegretto when Jewish music was introduced. The resulting cacophony created was a delight, bringing a smile to my face.
Staccato repeated notes introduced the Jewish theme, while the three musicians revisited themes from the first three movements. The whole work ended almost inaudibly, giving the audience enough time to catch its breath before bursting into applause. I hope we will have more music from The Trio Lakota, which proved that diligence, attention to detail and hard work (plus a good amount of talent) pays off for everyone concerned.