Notes and Editorial Reviews
Sonatina for Violin and Piano.
Sonata for Solo Bass
Elisaveta Blumina (pn);
Kolja Blacher (vn);
Erez Ofer (vn);
Johannes Moser (vc);
Nabil Shehata (db)
CPO 777804-2 (68:23)
The music of Mieczys?aw Weinberg continues to be issued, and continues to impress. Like his British counterpart, York Bowen, Weinberg was a composer trapped in time and place, and it is good that their very different musics are now coming to the fore with such regularity. One of the wonderful things about this disc, aside from the committed, intense playing of the instrumentalists, is the sound: crisp and clear, with only a very little reverb, which brings the sound of the instruments into sharp focus and makes the listener pay attention to the music.
Like Bowen, Weinberg was largely a tonal composer, although heavily influenced by Bartók and his personal friend Shostakovich. Unlike Shostakovich, however, Weinberg seldom engaged in whining, overwrought musical breast-beating; his aesthetic was geared at bringing out intense personal feelings, but always with good taste and a less mocking or posturing tone. The piano trio that opens this disc is a perfect example. Weinberg immediately grabs our attention with a strident
tremolo on the violin, and this sets the pace for the musical marvels that follow. The intensity of this piece was inspired, so the notes suggest, by Weinberg’s sight of Polish mothers with their children hugging the legs of Russian horses, begging the Soviet soldiers to let them come over because the Nazis were after them. It was that horrible, that terrifying, and the first movement of this trio reflects that mood. So, too, does the raw power of the ensuing Toccata, which builds up to a powerful fugue; and even the slow movement (“Poem”), which begins softly, still has an undercurrent of menace and unrest, which breaks out in the middle of the movement into an ostinato piano figure, receding in volume and intensity to a quiet, almost submissive ending with the violin playing soft, muted passages. The finale does not toy with a fugue, as did the second movement, but builds up through its quiet opening into a really complex and powerful fugue—oddly enough, based on entirely different thematic material from the opening, which sounds like a Bachian fugue theme. This is clearly one of Weinberg’s masterpieces.
Where do we go from here? To the sonatina for violin and piano from 1946, a piece that sounds like the diametric opposite of the trio. Set primarily in D Minor, but vacillating in and out of F major, the sonatina has touches of melancholy about it, but is primarily a lyrical work with what may be termed episodes of sadness. Here, too, some of the melancholy passages sound related to Jewish folk music without ever really using genuine themes. But ever and anon, Weinberg holds your interest through his amazingly creative sense of construction (would that many of our modern-day American wunderkind composers listen to his work and pay heed to what he does). Nothing in Weinberg’s work is ever flippant, thoughtless, or peripheral; he thinks in terms of the whole picture without sacrificing the detail of internal episodes.
One should be forgiven for thinking in advance that to end this disc with a solo sonata for the rather lugubrious-sounding double bass would be a bit of a downer; after all, solo bass sonatas don’t exactly grow on trees. Yet, after an almost predictably slow first movement, Weinberg becomes much more involved in writing
and not necessarily just
writing for the bass,
if you know what I mean. His creative forces flowed in one direction, which was towards the creation of fascinating musical forms, and never towards empty virtuosity or just “filling space” with his music. Thus the potential interpreter needs to stay focused not so much on the technical challenges (and there are many in this sonata) as on the musical progression and what it means in terms of expressive content. (I fond it interesting, in the notes, to read that bassist Shehata thinks of it as more “similar to a suite in which each movement is structured very clearly thematically.”) I also noted that, aside from its musical marvels, Weinberg manages to elicit some very interesting sounds from the bass, including percussive effects that almost make it resound like an organ—or, in the last movement, pushing it up into the cello range.
The playing of each musician on this disc, from pianist-director Blumina to double bassist Shehata, is simply astonishing, so deeply rooted in the music that it seems to be an extension of the notes on the page, not an extension of a virtuoso who says to the listener, “Look at me, I’m wonderful!” It is virtuosity that consistently serves the composer and his message, not the ego of the performer. This is a truly great disc.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Works on This Recording
Trio for Piano and Strings, Op. 24 by Mieczyslaw Weinberg
Kolja Blacher (Violin),
Johannes Moser (Cello),
Elisaveta Blumina (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1945; USSR
Length: 30 Minutes 30 Secs.
Piano Trio, Op. 24: I. Prelude and Aria: Larghetto
Piano Trio, Op. 24: II. Toccata: Allegro
Piano Trio, Op. 24: III. Poem: Moderato
Piano Trio, Op. 24: IV. Finale: Allegro moderato
Violin Sonatina, Op. 46: I. Allegretto
Violin Sonatina, Op. 46: II. Lento - Allegro - Tempo primo
Violin Sonatina, Op. 46: III. Allegro moderato - Lento
Double Bass Sonata, Op. 108: I. Adagio
Double Bass Sonata, Op. 108: II. Allegretto
Double Bass Sonata, Op. 108: III. Moderato
Double Bass Sonata, Op. 108: IV. Allegretto
Double Bass Sonata, Op. 108: V. Lento
Double Bass Sonata, Op. 108: VI. Allegro molto
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