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.
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.
Cool yet sensuous, aristocratic yet playful, the piano music of Spanish composer Xavier Montsalvatge, now in his late 90s, is a constant delight. Whether playing with Spanish motifs, as in the sexy habaneras sketch and the second of the Three Divertimentos, or with French-perfumed Impressionism, as in the pieces for left hand, Montsalvatge demonstrates a gift for elegant melody and delicate piano sonority. Especially ingratiating are the children's pieces, the Sonatine and Noah's Ark set, exquisite miniatures that are playful but sophisticated. Benita Meshulam, a champion of this music, makes a seductive case for it, as does the crystalline recording.
Both these couplings are extremely fine, but taken together they add up to even more than the sum of their parts. The point of coupling Shostakovich’s first and last string quartets is obvious, and the contrast between what the composer himself called his “Springtime Quartet” and the unprecedented sequence of six slow movements written months before his death could not be more poignant.