An eerie solo cello, high in its harmonics, opens Shostakovich’s elegiac Piano Trio No 2 of 1944, remembering the wartime suffering of Russia’s Jewish population. Violin and piano then join to build a taut fugue, and traditional forms continue across the work: after an ironic scherzo comes a passacaglia lament, which tips without pause into a dark, mechanised klezmer-like finale, dying out on the passacaglia chords and more eerie harmonics.
Tchaikovsky’s symphonic-length Piano Trio in A minor was to the memory of his friend, the pianist and conductor Arthur Rubinstein, who had died from tuberculosis aged 45. While previously he’d vowed never to write a trio (“the different timbres of these instruments sound as if they are battling one another. I find it genuine torture to listen to”), he was very pleased with it, albeit while worrying it may be “an arrangement of orchestral music”. The first movement opens mournfully, but moves through multiple keys, tempi and moods. The second is a nostalgia-toned theme and variations including an energetic fugue and a playful mazurka. After a flamboyant A major Variazione finale, A minor returns for the Lugubre coda reintroducing the work’s very opening theme as a fortississimo tragic lamentation. It eventually slows to finish on a quiet, exhausted funeral march.