Merling Trio

Postcards in E: Dvorák & Shostakovich

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On the heels of a successful album featuring the works of Astor Piazzolla and Frank Proto, the Merling Trio chose for this 2008 release to return to more "traditional," core-repertoire works. The choice of Dvorák's Fourth Piano Trio, "Dumky," and Shostakovich's Second Piano Trio seems to be based entirely on the fact that the two works are in the key of E minor. The liner notes for both pieces are quite oversimplified and do listeners an injustice by not giving more information about what they're listening to. The "Dumky" trio, like Piazzolla from a previous album, thrives when played with a great deal of drama and Romanticism. Merling is able to produce these characteristics in abundance, quickly changing between the more brooding, plaintive sections and the fiery, agitated ones yielding a nice sense of theater in their performance. The Shostakovich trio, on the other hand, was written in response to the composer's close friend who died in a concentration camp; there is no theater in this work, only despair, making it one of Shostakovich's bleakest compositions. Merling starts off nicely; the cello false harmonics in the opening passage are haunting as is the muted, soaring violin part. The tragic largo is deeply thoughtful and introspective. The cyclical finale, which includes a quote from another desolate composition -- the Eighth String Quartet -- is an entirely different story. Here, the Merling trio seems to totally lose control. Intonation is an abysmal mess, the strings grind away at their instruments producing an unappealing, forced sound, and the cohesiveness of the group in general gives way to an unnatural infusion of drama.

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