Chekhov's story of an anti-Semitic coffin maker who played the violin in a Klezmer orchestra provided the thematic underpinning for music inspired by the Jewish folk style.
The story was also the subject of an opera by Veniamin Fleishman, a pupil of Dmitri Shostakovich. The Russian master's Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor was the central piece, and indeed performance of the evening. Shostakovich dedicated the piece to the memory of Ivan Sollertinsky, a Jewish polymath and friend of the composer. It is one of his most striking pieces in terms of timbral variation. The very beginning is an ethereal melody, utilising high harmonics in the cello, beautifully executed by Oliver Coates and complemented by sul tasto bowing in the violin and foreboding octaves in the piano. The trio opted for a brutal approach in the Allegro; it was highly effective as the movement is a tense affair that bounces along with lurching glissandi and insistent double-stops in the strings.
As for the shorter pieces, I was charmed by Prokofiev's Overture on Hebrew Themes. I found this a very earnest, passionate piece, despite lacking the personal subtext of Shostakovich's Piano Trio. It is slightly more indebted to Klezmer music than the Shostakovich, as the first theme in the clarinet makes clear. But the wailing second theme is closer to Prokofiev's idiom, with cascading harmonies and lush, plaintive writing for the strings thoughtfully rendered by the string quartet.
Bruch's Kol Nidrei is an esteemed work; the cello intones mournful, cantor-like melodies which are responded to by the chorale-like orchestra (or piano reduction in this case). Bruch himself was a Protestant who nevertheless saw the melodic beauty and depth inherent in Jewish music.
Golijov's Lullaby and Doina was inspired by a film about the adversity of European Jews. It was rather disappointing, though not for want of effort by the players. The main fault was its generic nature; it appeared as soulless pastiche to me, perhaps reflective of its origins as film music - a stark contrast to the deeply felt music of the rest of the concert.