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Natalia Gutman & Friends at the Kennedy Center

available at AmazonD. Shostakovich / F. Schubert, Piano Trio No. 2, op. 67 / Violin Sonata D574,
Gutman, Kagan, Richter
Live Classics

Natalia Gutman’s bio in the program to her concert on Tuesday night at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater came with a recommendation of none other than Vladimir Putin. Although I won’t dismiss the possibility that the great leader enjoys a good performance of a Bach suite when he ponders which neighboring country to screw next, audiences may have given more credence to a quote from a musician; perhaps her longtime piano trio partner Sviatoslav Richter or other musical collaborators such as Rostropovich, Abbado, Argerich, Muti, or Stern. Then again, I suspect that most of the audience members didn’t need any such introduction. As with the Hvorostovsky concert, the crowd was saturated with Mme. Gutman’s compatriots.

The Bach suite with which she opened the concert (no. 3 in C major) was played rather fast and only got better from ‘dance’ to ‘dance’. The Gigue, in particularly, was a joy. Playing together with Messrs. Moroz (violin) and Shteinberg (piano), she treated the audience to the Brahms Trio No. 3 in C Minor – and a high-powered performance it was, indeed. Nothing leisurely, much less soothing, about this Brahms with edges, drive, and excess energy. I am sure there might be times I should like my Brahms more mellow, but those times have not yet come and are not likely to arrive soon in the case of live performances. Instead it was just what I needed from the work.

The second half started with the Schubert Arpeggione Sonata (too beautiful to listen to and too fascinating to watch the fingering, making occasional unclean notes all but disappear – Dmitri Shteinberg’s accompaniment excellent) and then concluded – much to my delight – with the Shostakovich Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor. The trio’s opening cello notes were insecure, bleak, and soft. If so on purpose, it evoked the naïve, plain song of a child. The trio’s first movement is very much unlike the string quartets and seems more like a miniature version of a (but no particular) Shostakovich symphony. The propelling rhythms drive the work along after the searching introduction ends – other instruments can do their shenanigans over that basic, unfailing pulse. It’s music that flies by the ear as pointless if you don’t find that pulse that will drive you along and through. All relief and tension stem from the adherence to, and loosening from, that pulse’s grip. The second movement’s Allegro non troppo came together and proved very exciting before the long, aching Largo took over. Like a chicken pecking away, the finale – Allegretto – combines humor and beauty with the aforementioned propelling drive, moving to a tremendously built-up climax (especially considering that only three instruments create all that hullabaloo) before it dies down again for a haunting end. Splendid way to have kicked off the Shostakovich centenary celebrations! Not surprisingly, the audience refused to leave and force-applauded the three artists onto stage for another Shostakovich encore.