Notes and Editorial Reviews
The string quartets by Mieczyslaw Weinberg on this album are numbers 1, Poland, 1937, 3, Russia, 1944, and 10, Russia, 1964. Quartet No. 1 Op. 2 was later recomposed in 1986 as Op. 141. A lyrical piece, the melodious first movement is nostalgically reminiscent of the Ravel and Debussy quartets transformed by darker postwar emotions, especially at the climaxes. An abrupt major key cadence at the end of this movement is something of a shock, though historically not out of place in early Hindemith or Stravinsky’s Petrushka. The strings are muted in the second movement, another effect plus modal inflections particularly reminiscent of Debussy until the solo cello takes up the opening theme, though still in the manner of Debussy but now
transformed by a chromatic, harmonic language that accommodates Weinberg’s postwar angst. In the Allegro Molto finale, the Impressionist influences recede between the cracks as the composer explores his earliest quartet afresh. The music I suspect is now more tragic but also more varied than the original.
The Quartet No. 3 is stylistically predictable only in that it is by turns pensive, dramatic, frantic, solemn and enigmatic. All Weinberg characteristics. What is fascinating is the clear-cut sense of form and balance and the tight compactness of ideas that reminds me not of the content but the technique of Schoenberg’s four Quartets and Chamber Symphony No. 1. The slow movement grows in appreciation on repeated hearings. It flows smoothly through a series of slight-of-hand variations on a rising theme that Weinberg obsesses on, sometimes in very subtle ways.
Quartet No. 10 is not unlike a Weinberg symphony but for string quartet. The opening movement shuns counterpoint for bold, rhetorical statements leading to highly charged emotional accompaniments. Much like walking around a sculpture, it doesn't break into a contrasting section but remains the same throughout. By contrast the second movement is swifter yet quiet and and the mood is all in half-lights. The third movement returns to the clear-cut bold statements of the first though shorter, a little over 2 minutes in length and grimmer. And the finale is again swift yet quiet if not even more hushed, as the world gets during gentle, steady winter snow, and with a greater mood of mystery. The sophistication of this music is found in these effects and thematic transformations. The music technically on to itself is highly familiar and approachable. A different sound world from other quartet masters such as Bartok or Carter.
The two short pieces take Weinberg in a more romantic direction. The Capriccio Op. 11 from 1943 begins with a theme of Viennese charm that wouldn’t be out of place as melodic filigree within Der Rosenkavalier but suddenly flies off into distant key relationships, there is a middle section of sudden winter bleakness leading to gruffness right on the border between humor and violence only to return to the quirky charm of the opening. The music is not complex yet is a miniature introduction to the psychological complexity of Weinberg. Romantic, yes, but a sense irony is strong. The short Aria, Op. 9 is Weinberg in a sustained, post-Wagnerian romantic mood.
This is Volume 5 in an acclaimed series played by the Quatuor Danel and their musicianship and performances are simply stunning. The sound quality is beautifully clear and rich, accommodating the many subtle shades and expressions from the quartet. Though the name of Shostakovich is often brought up when discussing Weinberg’s works as both were friends and shared ideas, the relationship in these works seems more like colleagues using a similar musical language. It would be inaccurate, as these quartets reveal, to describe Weinberg as just derivative of Shostakovich any more than to say Carl Stamitz only derives from Mozart. Both use a very similar musical language and share very similar experiences, though Shostakovich and especially Weinberg, having both survived the horrors of war and Stalin, lived through much tougher times. Very highly recommended to anyone who collects Weinberg, Shostakovich, Russian music, or just loves insightful, meaningful chamber music and imaginative moments. You will be rewarded by this album.
- Greg La Traille,
Works on This Recording
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