Notes and Editorial Reviews
What it was that sparked the interest in Mieczyslaw Weinberg in recent years I have no idea but am thrilled that it has happened. So many record companies seem to have made it their mission to record as much as possible and, as with this disc, world premières are still being made. There is a lot of discussion about who influenced whom, not to say borrowed from, at various times, between Weinberg and Shostakovich. I don’t see any value in such discussion because it may lead people to undervalue works by each of them if they’re deemed sometimes to be musical clones of each other’s works. The point for me is that they both had a similar musical language that came out of a shared experience both socially and politically. There is also
that inherited understanding of Russian and Polish traditions that involves certain mutual features. In a recent review of Tcherepnin’s piano music I also spoke of similarities in his music with that of Medtner, Scriabin and Shostakovich due to what I feel is “an inherent and instinctive prism through which these composers naturally viewed things musical”.
What is important, however, is to view each composer’s works on their own merits. As such there is no conflict in my mind that when it comes to sheer musicality Weinberg is up there with the great composers of the last century. For many he would be a newcomer to such status but listen to the discs that have emerged in recent years and it shouldn’t be difficult to decide that he deserves such an accolade.
The first work on this disc, and one of the two world premières, is his Partita, Op.54 written in late 1953. He had been arrested in February and was only released in April, after Stalin’s death in March, following the intervention of Shostakovich and Levon Atovmyan who approached Beria the feared head of the MGB - later to become the KGB. This is in ten parts, lasting over twenty-two minutes. It is a monumental work of wonderfully contrasting movements, each one of which is an individual little masterpiece. The first five of these are gentle and reflective while the remainder are big-boned, even explosive at times. The whole work makes a huge impression. The opening Prelude is a wistful little tune which makes its mark despite a length of under a minute; the phrase ‘small but perfectly formed’ comes to mind. Each component embodies memorable elements that instantly enter one’s audio memory bank; at least that’s how it is with me. Listen to the March that marks the divide between the two sections with its ominous, even menacing, sound then try to imagine you will not remember it when next you hear it. I for one cannot believe I won’t experience an instant recognition however long a gap in time it is between hearings. I can only repeat the same sentiment when it comes to the other two works; they are outstanding memorable pieces that sparkle with a pianistic brilliance that makes you shake your head in wonder at a truly affecting experience. As the booklet notes by David Fanning state the prevailing expectation for Soviet composers at the time was to make music accessible “to the masses” and to incorporate folk elements into their music which references people would recognise and to which they would relate. This Weinberg and others did, but I believe it was second nature for them to do so, irrespective of any encouragement or feelings of coercion.
The short Sonatina and the second of the world premières here recorded certainly adheres to this and opens with a delightful waltz-like theme again echoing with similarities to piano works by Shostakovich to whom it is dedicated. As much as anything else, however, Weinberg incorporates Jewish folk melodies into much of his music. This is something Shostakovich also often did, though through admiration of Jewish folk culture and an identification with their plight rather than any inherited experience. Such melodies open the Piano Sonata No.4 and feature throughout its length.
I don’t feel motivated to try further to dissect the music on this disc but I do feel compelled to encourage people to listen for they will, I’m convinced, be bowled over by such powerful piano works. I’d not heard the name of Allison Brewster Franzetti before. Reading about her in the booklet I felt as if I should have since she is well known around the world and a recipient of a Grammy in 2008 for Best Instrumental Soloist without Orchestra for 20thCentury Piano Sonatas on Naxos Records (8.570401). Suffice to say that her faultless technique has enabled her to be a persuasive advocate of this endlessly fascinating and powerfully stated music by a composer whose works are emerging to take their rightful place in the annals of great piano works of the 20th century.
-- Steve Arloff, MusicWeb International Read less
Works on This Recording
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