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TCHAIKOVSKY PIANO TRIO
in a minor, Opus 50



The Tchaikovsky Piano Trio is an enigma.  The first movement is to die for gorgeous.  It begins with what could well be considered the most beautiful melody ever penned.  And this extraordinary melody, a melody that would make Schubert green with envy, seems to go on for ever. it just doesn't end.  The movement builds in drama and intensity and leaves you panting at the finish.  And how, you ask, will the composer follow this with anything remotely comparable?  The answer is, he doesn't even try.

The Tchaikovsky Piano Trio is, in reality, two works stuck together under one Opus number and the name, Trio.  But that name implies many things, not the least of which is at the minimum a nod to the structure still very much in use at the time of its composition.  Instead, Tchaikovsky gives us a theme and variations, some of which charming, some banal, and at least one that will put you to sleep if you are not careful.

To this, he attaches a coda which would would be brilliant were it to come at the end of an appropriate movement, by which I mean a movement that invites this intense recapitulation of the work's opening movement at the logical end of a large scale 19th century sonata induced work.  Go figure.

I urge you to focus on the first movement, Pezzo elegiaco.  Unless you are entirely unfamiliar with the Theme and Variations, feel free to skip to the Coda and imagine what might have been had this wonderful composer put his shoulders into it and completed a work worth of the name, Tchaikovsky Piano Trio.


As to the performances, my favorites among the old school greats are the one by Horowitz, Stern and Rostropovich followed by Gilels, Kogan and Rostropovich.  And, though it includes only half of the first movement, the recording by the amazing American Pianist, Beth Levin might be the one I love most of all. (I was in the audience that night, and if you look closely at the photos, you can see the back of my head.)

But they are all fine performances.  If I were to single out two disappointments, they would be the late Richter recording in which I feel the performers are not at one with each other, and the Menuhin which I think misses the mark altogether.



Emil Gilels (1916-1985)
Soviet Pianist
Leonid Kogan, violin - Mstislav Rostropovich, cello

recorded in 1950




Lev Oborin (1907-1974)
Russian Pianist
David Oistrakh, violin - Sviatoslav Knushevitsky, cello

recorded in 1948




and in 1961




Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997)
Soviet Pianist
Oleg Kagan, violin - Natalia Gutman, cello

recorded in 1986




Dmitry Bashkirov (b 1931)
Russian Pianist
Igor Bezrodny, violin - Michael Homitser, cello

recorded in 1967




Artur Rubinstein (1887-1982)
Polish-American Pianist
Jascha Heifetz, violin - Gregor Piatigorsky, cello

recorded in the 1950s




Daniel Barenboim (b 1942)
Israeli Argentine-born Pianist
Pinchas Zukerman, violin - Jacqueline Du Pre, cello




Viktor Yampolsky (b 1942)
Russian Pianist
Mikhail Tsinman, violin - Natalia Savinova, cello

recorded in 2001




Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989)
Russian-American Pianist
Isaac Stern, violin - Mstislav Rostropovich, cello

recorded in 1976

i Pezzo elegiaco




Beth Levin (b 1950)
American Pianist
Eric Grossman, violin - Lawrence Zoernig, cello

recorded live in 2011

i Pezzo elegiaco (first part)




Boris Berezovsky (b 1969)
Russian Pianist
Vadim Repin, violin - Dmitry Yablonsky, cello




William Murdoch (1888-1942)
Australian Pianist
Arthur Catterall, violin - W. H. Squire, cello

recorded in the late '20s or early '30s

ii a Tema con variazioni: Andante con moto - b Variazione Finale e coda




Hephzibah Menuhin (1920-1981)
American-Australian Pianist
Yehudi Menuhin, violin - Maurice Eisenberg, cello




Joseph Villa (1948-1995)
American Pianist
William Preucil, violin - John Sharp, cello

recorded in 1990










For those of you who enjoy murder mysteries, here is my first with a strong musical polemic as background

Murder in the House of the Muse

which is also available as an audiobook.



And this is the more recently published second mystery in the series:

Murder Follows the Muse



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