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On the Threshold of Hope - Mieczyslaw Weinberg

Release Date: 10/03/2006 
Label:  Rca Victor Red Seal Catalog #: 87769   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Mieczyslaw Weinberg
Performer:  Dianne WernerJoaquin ValdepeñasRichard MargisonBryan Epperson,   ... 
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 17 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WEINBERG Clarinet Sonata. Jewish Songs after Shmuel Halkin. 1 Piano Quintet ARC Ens; Richard Margison (ten) 1 RCA 87769 (76:43)

I expect a fair amount of interest in this new release of music by Mieczys?aw Weinberg (1919–1996; also known as Moisei Vainberg on many releases) precisely because it dates before the start of the composer’s lengthy mutual admiration society with Shostakovich. Read more (Shostakovich helped Weinberg emigrate to Moscow, and bravely wrote letters of protest to the authorities several years later, after the Polish Jew had been imprisoned by the KGB. They lived for many years in the same apartment block, viewing and praising one another’s works.) Weinberg’s style shifted to emulate that of his friend during that time, and while he continued to produce good work in that vein, it was next to impossible to perceive his distinctive voice. Curiously, that same voice emerged again several years after Shostakovich’s death, but these early compositions provide a glimpse into a youthful but fully mature talent with a host of influences.

The Clarinet Sonata (1945) opens with a fast movement that alternates brooding with acerbic commentary. It then switches to a moderately paced exploration of deliberately bland popular materials, poked, stirred, and twisted. The third movement, an Adagio, hovers somewhere between melancholy and resignation, but never plumbs the depths of anguish.

The Jewish Songs after Shmuel Halkin (1944) concern themselves with massacres, sons going off to war, the expectation of letters from the front. The musical language mixes Weinberg’s customary manner with a folksy style reminiscent of Eastern European Jews. The quality varies greatly, with trivial pieces (“To the Warrior”) next to others of some dramatic power and breadth (“Deep Pits,” “Crimson Clay”). Then, too, what is one to make of “To the Beloved,” which seems to be aimed squarely at Schubert, with its musical satire married to an intensely serious and touching text?

By contrast, the Piano Quintet (1944) is a composition of substantial merit. Each of its five movements reveals the breadth of Weinberg’s gifts in formal structure, invention, counterpoint, and (in the lengthy fourth movement Largo) emotive impact. The handling of each instrument is idiomatic throughout, and there is much room provided for solo work. If any composition could serve as an introduction to Weinberg’s art—without fear of Shostakovich’s shadow getting in the way—it would be this one.

The performances by the ARC (Artists of the Royal Conservatory) Ensemble are smooth and technically proficient. At times, they are emotionally over-reticent, as in the finale to the Piano Quintet, its biting interjections smoothed out into polite statements. I also question the interpretive decision to play the Clarinet Sonata’s opening Allegro at a fairly slow pace. As in Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1, the energy and mood gradually relax across three movements: fast, moderate, and slow. Without that proper first movement tempo, the Sonata remains earthbound. I’m not suggesting that the almost recitative-arioso structure would have been easy to handle at its proper speed, but ignoring any solution by doing away with the problem hasn’t really worked either. Richard Margison is fine in the songs, with an exquisite head voice in “Nayyor lid.” His pronunciation and accent, though, are closer to Brahms and Wolf than to Yiddish.

Still, there is absolutely no performance competition of any kind from the slim Weinberg recording catalog at this time; so with good timings and excellent sound, this one’s self-recommending.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 28 by Mieczyslaw Weinberg
Performer:  Dianne Werner (Piano), Joaquin Valdepeñas (Clarinet)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1945; USSR 
Date of Recording: 04/16/2006 
Venue:  Centre for the Arts, Toronto, Canada 
Length: 18 Minutes 41 Secs. 
Jewish Songs (6) after Shmuel Halkin, Op. 17 by Mieczyslaw Weinberg
Performer:  Richard Margison (Tenor), Dianne Werner (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944; Moscow 
Date of Recording: 06/12/2006 
Venue:  Willowdale United Church, Toronto 
Length: 14 Minutes 37 Secs. 
Language: Yiddish 
Quintet for Piano and Strings, Op. 18 by Mieczyslaw Weinberg
Performer:  Bryan Epperson (Cello), Erika Raum (Violin), Marie Berard (Violin),
David Louie (Piano), Steven Dann (Viola)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944; USSR 
Date of Recording: 04/14/2006 
Venue:  Centre for the Arts, Toronto, Canada 
Length: 43 Minutes 18 Secs. 

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