Monday, November 11, 2019

concert review: Music@Menlo

Previous Menlo "residencies" - chamber music concerts with a topical theme, preceded by a lecture on the theme - have made sense. This one I reviewed, and had trouble expressing as coherent.

The theme was purportedly the 19th century burgeoning of the arts in Russia and how the Soviets repressed it in the 20th century. The 19th-century entry was Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio, a work by a composer who didn't believe that chamber music for strings and piano worked well together, and proved it by the way that he wrote for the instruments: separately, as if they were unconnected.

And the 20th-century entries were both by Shostakovich, a good choice to trace the history of Soviet oppression in music, except that one of them pre-dated the Soviets learning to be artistically repressive, and the other after the Stalinist era had long since faded away, and the people were under the dull blankness of the Brezhnev era. On top of which, Shostakovich was now obsessed by death and no longer very interested in political activity. On top of which the Soviets were never very interested in censoring chamber music anyway, which is why Shostakovich turned to it so intensely in the gruesome later days of Stalinism.

There's only so much I can convey of this tangle in a short review which also has to cover other things. But there's one bit of writing in the review I'm pleased with. The presence of a pianist named Solzhenitsyn raises an obvious question; note how I salt the answer to that question in near the end of the final paragraph.

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