Shostakovich began writing this Piano Trio in 1943 as the extent of the horror of the Nazi regime was being revealed, and he completed the final three movements in a period of despair following the death of his close friend, the eminent art critic Ivan Sollertinsky.
Described variously as a memorial to his friend, a requiem to the victims of wars and fascism, and a monument to non-resistance to evil, the trio is poignant and deeply moving.
The eerie sadness of the haunting cello harmonics that begin the trio intensifies as the piano and violin enter playing in the bottom of their ranges: inducing a feeling of trepidation that is only fully understood in the unfolding tragedy of the final movement.
While the vigorous scherzo-like second movement paints a portrait of Ivan Sollertinsky’s spirit and vitality, the energetic rhythms and occasional expression of joy are tinged by an undercurrent of foreboding.
The heartfelt lament of the third movement is built on a Hebrew theme. A passacaglia, the movement builds towards a fervent climax above steady repetitions of the chord progression in the piano. Each chord has been said to represent one of the many thousands of tombstones of victims of the war. The final movement follows without a pause, and the macabre Jewish dance, with its unrelenting accents, is a harrowing reminder of the inevitability of death.