Dmitri Shostakovich: Five Pieces for Two Violins and Piano

Program notes for Jiazhi Wang, violin recital, Carnegie Hall, Weill Recital Hall, March 28, 2017.
© Benjamin Pesetsky 2017. Not to be reprinted without permission.

These five pieces were collected and arranged for two violins and piano by Lev Atovmyan—a friend and assistant to Shostakovich—with the composer’s permission. The gorgeous, almost Brahmsian Prelude is taken from Shostakovich’s score to the 1955 film The Gadfly, the Gavotte and Elegy come from his Third Ballet Suite, and the Polka comes from the First Ballet Suite. The Waltz is believed to derive from sketches for The Tale of the Priest and of His Worker, Blockhead, a Soviet animated film Shostakovich began to score, but was forced to abandon after his 1936 denunciation under Stalin.

But in these five violin pieces, we hear a less familiar Shostakovich: this music is beautiful and straightforward—joyful and sorrowful in turn, but uncut by the fear and anger evident in so much of his other work.