The Lost Works of Feinberg and Winterbeg — Sirodeau, Zymbalist — Melism Records

by | Jul 16, 2020 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

FEINBERG: Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano in E Major, Op. 12; Fantasia for Piano No. 1, Op. 5; Suite No. 1 for Piano, “4 pieces en forme d’etudes,” Op. 11; WINTERBERG: Sonata for Piano No. 1; Suite 1945 “Theresienstadt” for Piano – Nina Pissavera Zymbalist, violin/ Christophe Sirodeau, piano – Melism Records [] ****:

For pianist Christophe Sidereau, the justification for this disc lies in its addressing “composers abandoned by history despite the intrinsic merits of their works.” Samuil Feinberg (1890-1962) enjoyed a powerful reputation as a performer and pedagogue, having studied with Alexander Goldenweiser in Moscow, and then falling under the spell of the Symbolist movement and the music of both Medtner and Scriabin.  An infrequent composer, Feinberg avoided the assertion and ambition of self-promotion, and only in the 1920s did the Universal Edition of his early scores garner recognition so as to impel an invitation to Vienna in 1925, when he met Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Janacek.  Political developments curtailed any of Feinberg’s world travels after 1938, the Soviet authorities – and their overt anti-Semitic policies – having refused permission and then, after 1948, clamped down on all personalities accused of Formalism.  Feinberg retired from the concert stage in 1956, and recordings of his original pieces like his sonatas did not appear until 2003.

The E Major Sonata (c. 1911) presents us four movements:   Allegro ma non troppo e cantando; Allegro; Largo; and Allegro vivace.  The writing, primarily tonal and even – in the last movement – cyclical, bears something of the stamp of Franck but laden with the more voluptuous and experimental harmonies in Medtner.  The final movement had remained incomplete until 2001, when pianist Sirodeau reconstructed and amended what notation Feinberg left behind, a passionate, often turbulent series of gestures that will permit the lovely music of the Largo movement to return.  Originally, the slow movement gives us an expressive, angularly Romantic song, set in irregular metric units, molto rubato. In the Finale, struggling to regain its E Major home key, the song of the Largo undergoes a fiery transformation.  Collaborators Zymbalist and Sirodeau, premiering this long-suppressed composition, manage to convey its shifting, moody beauties, even investing the last pages with a heartfelt exuberance.

Feinberg’s Fantasia No. 1 in E-flat Major, Op. 5 (c. 1917) pianist Sirodeau characterizes as “magnificent, noble, and reflective.” He argues that a degree of Wagner influence permeates the score, cast in one movement – like the Alban Berg Sonata and several of the Scriabin sonatas – and exudes an anxious polyphony. Comprised of two themes, the second modulates into C-sharp minor. The music becomes increasingly dense and chromatic, the shifts moving from Wagner’s Tristan through A-flat and B-flat to a flirtation with atonalism. At last, Allegro agitato, the music reaches a spasm close to Scriabin of the last sonatas. The intensity collapses of its own weight into a hazy, resigned mournfulness. Feinberg composed his Suite No. 1 of Four Pieces in 1919, published in 1922. He dedicated the work to his teacher, Goldenweiser.  The No. 1, Leggiero e cantando, moves in E Major over an antique. Alberti bass. The second of the set at mmuch more resembles an “etude” proper, a brief Con moto in angular harmony, ending in E-flat minor. The third proves more chromatic, opening in an agitated F-sharp minor, uneasy and bleak at its conclusion. The last of the set, Tranquillo e cantabile, sets twelve bars of music in F minor, gloomy and fitfully contrapuntal, dark raindrops that Brahms might have conceived if he had experienced the nightmares of the Twentieth Century.

The Prague-born Hans Winterberg (1901-1991) provides yet another instance of musical talent both abused and neglected. Even beyond the grim terror of the Holocaust, his having been interred at Theresienstadt in 1945 until its liberation in May, his own family mismanaged his archive and hoarded his compositions beyond his death into 2013.  Editor Michael Haas and the composer’s grandson, Peter Kreitmeir have proved instrumental, along with pianist Sirodeau in restoring Winterberg’s artistic legacy.

Sirodeau performs two major works by Winterberg: first, he plays the 1936 Sonata No. 1, which bears traces of Schoenberg and a kind of kinship with Beethoven’s Op. 109. Quite aggressive and percussive, the opening Agitato does relent temporarily from its cascades and clusters to allow a moment of pearly repose.  Highly concentrated, the mixture proves kaleidoscopic and unnerving, often repetitive in ways that foreshadow the minimalists of two generations later. The middle movement, Adagio, begins pesant and heavy, but it suddenly opens up the top voice of the keyboard in lovely, suspended figures. The idyll does not last, shattered by the opening foray in the manner of a clamorous march.  An ostinato pattern takes us to the expansive last movement, Molto vivace. Here, Winterberg suggests Czech dances that become quickly pulverized into rhythmic kernels, a la Webern. Winterberg employs whole tones that veil the procession in Debussy, but Winterberg’s obsession with manic grotesquerie triumphs over his lyricism.  Moments of waltzes clash with the obsessive march rhythms, and bitonal and polytonal structures pass fleetingly by in order to add to a tormented vision that contains morbid thoughts and violence, only mollified by the idea of order that might justify existence.

The last piece, Winterberg’s testament to his incarceration at Theresienstadt, received its world premiere from Sirodeau in 2015. In three movements, its central movement, Intermezzo – Grave, forms the tragic heart of the work. The music opens with Praeludium resembling a Bach two-part invention.  The colors, however, refer less to the Baroque era than to post WW II Hindemith and percussive Copland.  Percussive ostinato patterns mark the last movement, Postludium – Presto, where polytonal clusters and vivid climaxes leave us impressed with a spiritual vehemence that testifies to a will to survive.

—Gary Lemco



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