Notes and Editorial Reviews
Sonata No. 3 for Solo Violin
Sonatina for Violin and Piano
Concertino for Violin and String Orchestra
Symphony No. 10 for String Orchestra
Gidon Kremer (vn, concertmaster); Daniil Grishin (va); Giedr? Dirvanauskait? (vc); Daniil Trifonov (pn); Kremerata Baltica
ECM 2368/69 (2 CDs: 101: 08)
Mieczys?aw Weinberg (1919–1996) is the hot composer-of-the-moment, but his music has been with us for a long time; we just weren’t paying enough attention. Recordings of nine of his symphonies and three of his chamber symphonies appear in the final 2001 Schwann Opus catalog, and many of them were reviewed in
. At that time, we hadn’t even settled on how to transliterate his name; Schwann lists him as Moissei Vainberg, and the
Archive still has entries under both names. We can’t talk about Weinberg—or listen to his music—without bringing up Shostakovich. To some extent this is due to external factors: Shostakovich was 13 years older, and we know his music so well and have known it for so long. Although they often showed each other their music, there’s little doubt that the stronger influence went from the older composer to his younger “brother on trial” in the Soviet Union. I don’t believe this in any way lessens or cheapens Weinberg’s achievements. Judging from the dozen or so pieces I’ve heard, Weinberg’s music is less dramatic, less anguished than his friend’s, but tends to be more subtle and more elegant. One might describe him as Shostakovich without the neuroses.
The Third Sonata for solo violin is a late (1976) work, by which time Weinberg had moved past his connections to Shostakovich. In one 22-minute movement, it contains at least six recognizable sections which recall Classical sonatas (I have no scores for any of these as yet rarely heard works). Five minutes of anguished, busy music is succeeded by four of slow, ruminative playing. An insistent little scherzo-like six-note motif then alternates with the ruminative music. A harsh four-note motto rules over some rapid-fire passagework and is then varied in many ways. A simple, unadorned melody is punctuated by pizzicatos. Finally, lightly rhythmic music—like a gently swaying Jewish dance—fades away with a few brief references to earlier sections. Although pure virtuosity is seldom to the fore, there are long stretches of multi-stopped chords that must be wearing on the performer. Gidon Kremer tosses it all off with supreme
and apparent ease.
Weinberg had a wonderful feel for chamber music; most pieces that I have heard are warm and friendly while also exciting and continually interesting. The music sounds tonal, even though one cannot assign it a key signature. The op. 48 Trio is typical: An
Allegro con moto
begins with an easy swing, as the instruments pass the theme around, gradually increasing in intensity. A recapitulation begins even more delicately, leading to a quiet, gentle close. This is pure Weinberg; his endings often catch one unaware, with no hint of coda or final cadence. The music just stops, and only then does one realize that it has said everything it had to say. Also typical is that he limns Classical ways while inventing his own forms and structures. An
is quite similar to the opening movement, but darkens the mood and stretches the harmonies, as the violin explores its upper reaches. The final
is a quiet little march on cat’s feet, with a Jewish twang and Shostakovian insistence. It too ends, unexpectedly, with a single-chord coda/cadence—possibly an ironic nod to conformity. Kremer and friends contribute much to the overall elegance; the shoe fits perfectly.
The sonatina is a wild little piece (although no smaller than the trio or concertino to follow). On the one hand, it is more angular, more abrasive, than the other pieces; yet it is also sweeter. Its opposing characteristics announce themselves boldly, whereas Weinberg’s contradictions are usually subtly disguised. Everything is out front here, on the surface, which makes the music seem un-Weinbergian—but I do not know his
well enough yet to stand behind that judgment. The movement titles are
, and yet the
rises to a mad dash, demanding a high level of virtuosity from both instrumentalists. When it returns to its original tempo, it has become angry and hectoring, which mood spills over into the finale, stomping out the jollity of its principal idea. One cannot imagine a violinist more in sympathy with this music than Gidon Kremer; nor have I ever heard him in better form.
The 1948 Violin Concertino is an intriguing work. Its first movement,
, sings happily; all is sweetness and light; I hear no sign of anti-Soviet irony and no hint of political compromise—
this disc’s program notes. I don’t wish to diminish the political difficulties of composers in the Soviet Union, but they do make good copy, and writers have to write; let’s just listen to this lovely, honest music. The next movement,
, begins with a long cadenza-like passage that may be trying to maintain the mood, although with greater harmonic and melodic austerity. The string orchestra enters with a dirge, which the violin then takes up and elaborates. A gently swinging finale,
Allegro moderato poco rubato
, attempts to restore the original mood but is constrained by a variety of interesting complications. Unusually for Weinberg, there is little hint of Shostakovich in this piece; the slow movement evokes the pastoral Vaughan Williams, and violin figurations in the finale recall the Prokofiev concertos. Kremer’s sweet/sour tones are ideal for this gorgeous concertino.
Chandos and Naxos are engaged in a joint project to record all 22 Weinberg symphonies, but the 10th hasn’t appeared as yet, and I know of no recording other than this one. It was written for a chamber orchestra of 17 instruments, but Kremerata Baltica plays so smoothly that it often sounds like a larger ensemble. The opening movement, “Concerto grosso:
,” has that uniquely Weinbergian character of being sweetly outgoing and yet excitingly dissonant at the same time. A central section makes nods to Vivaldi and Shostakovich but remains pure Weinberg. The second movement, “Pastorale:
,” is a tender violin concerto, with a long cadenza. The music is very serious and yet incredibly light—Weinberg was the master of such character balancing. Number three, “Canzona:
,” is the most obviously political movement, sneaking quietly about in dark corners, with another violin cadenza, after which the orchestra finally makes one bold outcry. “Burlesque:
” is a wild, daemonic scherzo, not as potent as some of Shostakovich’s, but perhaps more elegant. What may be construed as a trio section hides in dark corners again. On the scherzo’s return, the solo violin more or less takes over. The finale, “Inversion:
) brings together much of the preceding material.
I haven’t been so impressed by a symphony at first hearing in decades (Dutilleux’s Second, perhaps?). I am always suspicious of easy success, however; how will it hold up in the long run? Of course I can’t answer that now, but at the moment Weinberg’s 10th is a frabjous joy. Oddly enough, it makes me think of Saint-Saëns, an equally superb craftsman: The “Organ” Symphony is a wow on first hearing, but we quickly pigeonhole it as being superficial. Oh yeah? It’s as lovely as ever after all these years.
There’s going to be a mighty battle for top spot on my Want List 2014.
FANFARE: James H. North
Works on This Recording
Trio for Strings, Op. 48 by Mieczyslaw Weinberg
Daniil Grishin (Viola),
Gidon Kremer (Violin),
Giedre Dirvanauskaite (Cello)
Period: 20th Century
Concertino for Violin, Op. 42 by Mieczyslaw Weinberg
Gidon Kremer (Violin)
Period: 20th Century
Symphony no 10 in A minor by Mieczyslaw Weinberg
Gidon Kremer (Violin)
Period: 20th Century
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