After sixteen years of exceptional achievement and vast critical acclaim, the career paths of the members of The Florestan Trio are diverging. Sadly, the trio will disband at the end of this year and this disc marks the end of their studio career. For their final recording, the trio performs an all- Shostakovich program comprising the two piano trios and the Seven Romances on Poems of Alexander Blok, for which they are joined by soprano Susan Gritton. Written in 1923, the first trio was an astonishing achievement for a seventeen-year-old student.
Shostakovich's two Piano Concertos lack the seriousness of this four concertos for violin or cello. The first is actually a "double" concerto, having an important part for solo trumpet. It's an early but expertly written work sharing the same musical climate as the First Symphony. The Second Concerto was created for the composer's son Maxim, now a well-known conductor. It's a light- hearted, tongue-in-cheek piece with a Romantic slow movement.
This disc is the first ever to offer the complete Shostakovich score to the 1964 Grigori Kozintsev film Hamlet. Actually, it contains a bit more: track 6 for example, "The Ball," presents music not heard in the film, music the composer wrote apparently because he wanted to reach a logical ending, even if in the film the music just fades away. There are 23 numbers in all, with a total timing of over 62 minutes. Stylistically, the music is related to the Eleventh (1957) and Thirteenth (1962) symphonies, but is of course less developmental and more programmatic, coming across as a sort of tone poem made up of many short movements. While there is a fair amount of bright, even happy music in the score, the mood is generally dark and intense, appropriately so considering the subject matter: Shakespeare's Hamlet is, after all, hardly a comedy. The music doesn't skim surfaces, either – it haunts, it sasses, it laughs, and it plumbs the depths.