Notes and Editorial Reviews
Cello Sonata No. 2
Eos Qrt; Doris Adam (pn)
NEOS 11128 (67:06) Live: Bregenz
With recordings of works by Mieczys?aw Weinberg (aka Moisey or Moishe Vainberg, and Moisey Samuilovich Vaynberg) appearing with ever-increasing frequency, we really ought to
settle on a standardized version of his name, regardless of how it’s spelled on the album, just as we do with Rachmaninoff. Weinberg (1919–96) was born into a Jewish family in Warsaw, which explains the Polish Mieczys?aw and the Yiddish Moisey or Moishe, for Moses.
After losing much of his family in the Holocaust, Weinberg fled Poland in 1939 bound for the Soviet Union, which may not have been the smartest move. Instead of escaping to the West, like so many other artists of the time had, he hopped from one hotbed of anti-Semitism to another, finding himself under arrest in 1953 on charges of “Jewish bourgeois nationalism.” Not even Shostakovich’s intervention on Weinberg’s behalf was enough to save him from imprisonment; what freed him was the death of Stalin a month later.
However gifted a composer Weinberg may have been—the jury is hung on that verdict—one has to question the man’s political savvy and instinct for survival. Even long before the Holocaust, relatives of Weinberg had been victims of persecution in the Moldavian region of Bessarabia, and a cousin was executed in 1918 in a putdown of the Baku revolt.
It seems that Weinberg’s sole reason for heading to the Soviet Union was his sense of kinship with Shostakovich and his belief that his good friend, the great Russian composer, would mentor him and help further his career; indeed, Shostakovich did much to support Weinberg in his efforts. Therein, however, is the cause for the hung jury. Weinberg became an embarrassment in Soviet music circles, criticized for being a bad Shostakovich imitator.
The “imitator” charge is largely accurate and easily demonstrable through objective analysis of Weinberg’s compositional techniques; but the “bad” charge is subjective and open to debate. Performances and recordings of the composer’s works are proliferating, so performing artists and record companies are obviously expressing interest and confidence in the music. In fact, back in
30:4, when Barry Brenesal reviewed an RCA release of Weinberg’s Piano Quintet, there were no other recordings of the piece. Four years passed before a second one appeared on Hänssler Classic, reviewed by Art Lange in 35:1. And here, not even a year later, we have yet a third, the version at hand, which may actually have been recorded before the Hänssler.
The Cello Sonata No. 2 also appears to have at least two fairly recently released previous recordings, one with cellist Michal Kanka and pianist Miguel Borges Coelho on Praga, another on BIS with cellist Alexander Chaushian and pianist Yevgeni Sudbin, the latter reviewed in 31:6.
Written in the same year, 1959, as Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto, Weinberg’s sonata is likewise dedicated to the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. In three movements, the piece is about as close as you can get to Shostakovich in style, mood, and application of musical devices without it actually being by Shostakovich. Listen especially to the concluding Allegro with its percussive ostinato patterns in the piano and the cello’s repeated shrieks and martellato counterpoints, so reminiscent of the second movement of Shostakovich’s famous E-Minor Piano Trio of 1944.
Coincidentally, 1944 is the same year in which Weinberg composed his Piano Quintet, and although it too bears the stamp of his role model, there are many passages that momentarily sound more lyrical and romantic than anything Shostakovich was writing at the time, while other passages sound momentarily more modernistic than Shostakovich’s contemporaneous works. Examples of both can be heard in the second-movement Allegretto. It’s likely that at the time Weinberg composed the quintet, he’d not yet fallen so fully under Shostakovich’s sway, for he and his wife didn’t move to Moscow, at Shostakovich’s invitation, until 1943, having spent their first years of exile from Poland in Minsk and then Tashkent. It’s interesting to speculate on how Weinberg might have developed as a composer if he hadn’t been so strongly bonded to and influenced by Shostakovich.
If you are favorably disposed to Shostakovich’s chamber music, it’s practically a given that you will enjoy these poignant and powerful works by Weinberg. The only competing recording of either of these works I can speak to is the aforementioned Chaushian/Sudbin one of the cello sonatas, which are exceptional. But Andreas Pokorny, cellist in the Eos Quartet of Vienna, is a superb player, and he joins pianist Doris Adam for a performance of the sonata that’s in turn both rousing and moving. The other members of the ensemble—Willy Büchler and Christian Blasl, violins; and Roman Bernhart, viola—come together with Porkorny and Adam for an equally poignant performance of the quintet.
The album, titled Weinberg Edition, Volume 4, is satisfying in every way. Once or twice, a muffled cough from the audience betrays these otherwise excellent recordings as live concert events. As noted at the outset, the Weinberg catalog is rapidly expanding, so there’s more to choose from now than there was even a year or two ago. But if you’re just now thinking of dipping into Weinberg’s music, this CD is probably as good a place as any to get your ears wet.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
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