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The centrepiece of the concert was the arresting Seven Romances for Soprano and Piano Op 127 by Dmitry Shostakovich, one of his less often performed song cycles, and an ideal repertoire piece for chamber ensembles. The cycle has a fascinating history, composed in 1967 for the 50th anniversary of the Revolution, yet also as a private commission for Rostropovich and his wife Galina Vishnevskaya. Composed soon after the composer had experienced a physical and spiritual low point (his second heart attack and ensuing depression), their tone is not celebratory, yet its beguiling beauty is echt-Shostakovich, full of angst, dissonant bite, sinewy melody and bleak despairing moods underpinned at its heart with a richness and intensity that is life-affirming and compelling. The poetry is by the Russian symbolist poet Alexander Blok, and is set in an ingenious way, using solo then pairs of instruments with voice and saving the entire ensemble for the final song, which thus gains in significance. Opus 3 was alert to the fluctuations in intensity and Caroline Trutz projected the Russian poetry with richness and clarity.

The duet of the first song, 'Ophelia's Song', was immediately captivating, Jane Odriozola's resonant, supple cello in continuous counterpoint with the soprano, the relentless lyricism vividly depicting the waiting anticipation of the Shakespearean heroine. The second, 'Gamayan the prophet bird', is a suspense filled duet in which Melanie Reinhart's emphatic bass octaves interacted with the high and low leaps of the soprano line with almost demonic power, reminiscent somewhat of Shostakovich's opera Lady Macbeth of Mstensk. In the third, 'We were together', Christopher White conveyed the extended violin solo with an aptly childlike innocence, its folk song contours matched by the soprano, tinged with a major-minor ambivalence, decorated with varied harmonization and trilling motifs. A thicker, processional texture pervades the fourth song, 'Gloom enwraps the sleeping city', in which cello and piano support the soprano's dark flowing lines that unfold without a break. As its title suggested, the fifth, 'The Tempest', drew more energetic effects from the violin and piano, outbursts of tremolando and fortissimo, piano bass and voice intertwined in a chillingly bleak duet infused with feverish momentum. The song flows directly into the sixth, 'Secret Signs', in which, after a cello solo and duet with violin, a climactic peak of tension brings in the piano, all four performers at last combined in the culminating song, 'Music'. Here a sudden surge of impetus adds to the more highly-charged intensity that heightens the comparison of this cycle with Shostakovich's symphonic style, particularly of the late symphonies.

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Copyright © 16 October 2007 Malcolm Miller, London UK


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