Earl Wild piano – Mischa Mishkakoff, violin – Benar Heifetz, cello – NBC Special Program – March 10, 1945 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Part of a series of special programs broadcast by NBC during the month of March in 1945, featuring first performances (in the Western Hemisphere) of music by Dmitri Shostakovich.
The musicians taking part in this broadcast are all seasoned veterans of the NBC Symphony under Arturo Toscanini, and they are here making music available to America that was new and important at the time from one of the world’s most celebrated “new” composers.
This broadcast features the Western Hempisphere premier of his 2nd Piano Trio, shortly after composing the “wartime” Seventh and Eighth Symphonies. Shostakovich had scarcely finished the first movement when he received word of the sudden death (at age 41) of his close friend, Ivan Sollertinsky, a brilliant musicologist, critic, and artistic director of the Leningrad Philharmonic. For nearly twenty years, Sollertinsky had been one of Shostakovich’s most loyal defenders. His influence included introducing the composer to the music of Mahler. Shostakovich wrote to Sollertinsky’s widow, “Ivan Ivanovich was my very closest and dearest friend. I am indebted to him for all my growth. To live without him will be unbearably difficult.”
In dedicating the Second Piano Trio to the memory of Sollertinsky, Shostakovich paid homage to an existing tradition of elegiac trios by Russian composers (Tchaikovsky’s, following the death of Nikolai Rubinstein, Rachmaninov’s, following the death of Tchaikovsky, and Anton Arensky’s in memory of the cellist, Karl Davydov). Yet, this music seems to be much more than a contemplative elegy for a single man. It’s a haunting, universal lament, emerging amid the horrific suffering of the siege of Leningrad, the desolation of the Eastern Front, the iron-fisted artistic censorship of Stalin, and the first terrifying glimpses of the death camps of Treblinka and Majdanek. It was performed once on November 14, 1944 and then, due to censorship, could not be played again in the Soviet Union for many years.
Admittedly a bit creaky at the beginning it is nonetheless an important first performance; one of several for this series, which will appear in coming weeks.
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