Vainberg (1919-96) was a Polish Jewish composer who had the unfortunate experience of not only suffering under the Nazis (who killed his entire family), but of spending the greater part of his life in Moscow, thereby witnessing the activities of the other favorite son of the twentieth century, Stalin. One of his consolations was his friendship with Shostakovich, who became a lifelong mentor. His work is prolific, though he remains almost completely unknown in the United States and still not-so-well-known elsewhere. Judging from the music on this disc, his 26 symphonies, 17 string quartets and over 150 songs should prove fertile ground for those adventurous enough to start plowing.
This is but a token sampling, and it shows us pieces written 20 and ten years apart. The most substantial work here is the Piano Quintet (1944), a five-movement work that dances through minefields of moods, curiously elated and then downright somber, alternating. But there is no meaningless scribbling in this piece at all, and Vainberg constantly amazes as he takes us from tongue-in-cheek (or is it?) to forthright seriousness. The creative aspects of the melodies and harmonies never cease to interest, and one can only compare the experience to the sampling of five delicious yet very different wines. The music will remind you of his mentor to be sure, yet there are distinctions and subtle inflections of phrase that give the composer a unique sound.
The one-movement Quartet No. 13 (1977) is brooding and dark, no getting around it, and is perhaps the most consistently ominous work here, without trying to hide it feelings. But No. 11 (1965) is more amiable, contrasting the four movements with sarcasms, folksongs, and a robust polyphonic structure that shows the complete control the composer has over his craft. The Vilnius Quartet plays well, though I can imagine the pieces played better, and Golda Vainerg-Tatz (no relation to the composer) is fully competent in her difficult part. The sound is close up, perhaps a little uncomfortable, but in the end it was the music that kept beckoning me to hear beyond the few flaws in the recording. This is for those with an open mind who are not afraid of new discoveries.
— Steven Ritter