WEINBERG: Complete Sonatas and Works = 5 Sonatas for Violin and Piano; Sonatina in D Major; Rhapsody on Moldavian; Sonata No. 6; 3 Pieces – Linus Roth, violin/ Jose Gallardo, p. – Challenge Classics (3 CDs)

by | Jan 8, 2014 | Classical CD Reviews

WEINBERG: Complete Sonatas and Works = 5 Sonatas for Violin and Piano; Sonatina in D Major, Op. 46; Rhapsody on Moldavian for Violin and Piano, Op. 47, No. 3; Sonata No. 6, Op. 136b; 3 Pieces – Linus Roth, violin/ Jose Gallardo, piano – Challenge Classics CC72567 (3 CDs) 52:12; 57:30; 54:04 (7/9/13) [Distr. By Allegro] ****:

Mieczysław Weinberg (aka Vainberg) led a tragic life, full of struggle and persecution. As a Polish Jewish composer he fled from the Nazi regime to Russia, where Stalin imprisoned him. Weinberg was saved at the last minute by his good friend and colleague Dmitri Shostakovich. He had lost all his family members in concentration camps. Weinberg’s compositions, often with a Jewish slant, were prohibited.

Noted German violinist Linus Roth and the Argentinean piano virtuoso José Gallardo feel compassion for this composer, having recorded his works 9-11 January and 22-24 February 2013. Linus Roth performs on the Stradivari “Dancia” 1703. Into his beautiful and deeply emotional music Weinberg expressed much of his soul. A master of contrasts, Weinberg wavers from very dark, to very bright, from a fortissimo – when the world breaks into pieces – to a pianissimo whimper of world’s end. In one bar there can be hope, and in the next bar: hopelessness!

Weinberg’s musical idiom stylistically mixes traditional and contemporary forms, combining a freely tonal, individual language inspired by Shostakovich with ethnic (Jewish, Polish, Moldavian) influences and a unique sense of form, harmony and color. Weinberg’s music reveals a progression from his early Op. 5 and 8 piano sonatas, to his last Op. 153 Chamber Symphony, written over 50 years later, moving from a neo-Classical impetus to an advanced experimental musical vocabulary, to the absorption of modern and post-modern tendencies, all the while retaining the melodic and tonal contours of each individual work. Harmonically and rhythmically complex, the music often mixes tender plaintive lyricism and Jewish themes with stark, contrasting dissonances, to create a balance between tradition and modernity, suffused by a (Semitic) religious yearning.

The four-movement Sonata No. 5, Op. 53 (1953), dedicated to Shostakovich, opens Andante con moto with a plainchant or “liturgical” motif we could attribute to Ernest Bloch. The evolving sweetness of the line, despite the piano’s chromatic angst, suggests Prokofiev’s style, as does the following angularly rasping Allegro molto. Roth’s chaste tone reminds us at first of Joseph Szigeti, but the aggressive moments transfigure us to the likes of Gitlis and Kremer. The Allegro moderato combines the Stravinsky of L’Histoire du Soldat with Prokofiev’s transparent irony. The resultant dance has an unearthly, ghoulish glow, a tale by Ambrose Bierce. The six-section fourth movement moves through a series of moods, lyrical as well dark, and its melos would provide provender for a host of Oistrakhs and Perlmans.

The Sonata No. 3 (1947) Weinberg dedicated to violinist Mikhail Izrailevich Fichtenholz, a colleague of Oistrakh. The keyboard part often threatens to overwhelm the violin part. The second movement Andantino, however, intertwines Chassidic and ethnic chant with modal harmonies expressively. The last movement, though marked Allegretto cantabile in an overt Shostakovich manner, explodes with a ferociously colorful anguish that needs no “influences.” Weinberg composed the 1949 Sonatina for composer Boris Tchaikovsky, but the work only received its debut from Leonid Kogan in 1955. Perhaps in homage of Schubert, the piece appears airy and lighthearted at first, Allegretto. The tri-partite second movement changes the affect to something less genial, the melody bleak in the manner of a Shostakovich lament. The last movement compensates for the gloom by entering upon a rhythmically shifting dance into which Roth’s violin interjects a host of effective (wintry) sounds, some ethnic, like the distilled sound from a Chagall village-portrait.

Sonata No. 1 (1943) and Sonata No. 2 (1944), both “transitional” works, each has its own biographical association.  No. 1 is dedicated to actor Solomon Mikhoels, Weinberg’s father-in-law, brutally murdered by Stalin. Its restless sensibility – interrupted by flights of song – generates an uneasy momentum, perhaps an updated version of the last Brahms Violin Sonata. An emotion close to serenity appears, however elusively, in the second movement (Adagietto) of this powerful Op. 12No. 2, dedicated to Oistrakh, rings more of Prokofiev and his sardonic percussion, the irony likely connected to the wartime ethos, as are Prokofiev’s piano sonatas of the same period. The work did not receive a premier until 1962. The Lento movement – with its impassioned middle section – could serve as a dirge for humanity. Roth’s is this work’s first recording.

The Sonata No. 4 (1939), dedicated to Leonid Kogan, indicates the range of Weinberg’s keyboard talent. The work constitutes a kind of Stabat Mater, conceived as three adagios and one allegro, of which the first Adagio is huge. The entire piece splices tenderness with tenacity of spirit. A martial buzzing figure pervades the Allegro ma non troppo, manic and angry, a spirit totally akin to Shostakovich. The atmosphere of liturgical chant then follows, Adagio tenuto molto rubato, with each of the principals in song that extends, cyclically, to the Adagio primo with which this lament began. Weinberg’s Moldavian Rhapsody (1949; rev. 1952) receives its first inscription since that of David Oistrakh in 1949. Rife with emotional contrasts, the high notes senza vibrato juxtaposed with muted pp and sudden ff passages. If Bloch’s style could be wedded to that of Prokofiev’s D Major Concerto second movement, this might be the equivalent. At the half-way point, the music embarks on a gypsy flourish, all Enescu, Dinicu, and Bartok rolled up into one glossy bravura surface, a sure-fire crowd-pleaser, if you can play it.

The Sonata No. 6 (1982) rather stands alone emotionally, written as a memento mori for Weinberg’s family, victims of the Holocaust. If the idea of a totentanz or danse macabre has hovered about Weinberg’s works, this sonata confirms our intimations of mortality. The opening solo violin plies for some 50 bars of kaddish—grueling, demented and inexorable. Linus Roth calls it “an ice floe, a freshly calved growler with rugged corners and harsh edges.” The keyboard pointillism only adds to the cruelty of fate. Along with the ensuing Adagio and Moderato – Adagio movements, this music stands to Weinberg’s legacy as the Baba Yar Symphony to that of Shostakovich.

The survey concludes with Weinberg’s early (1935) 3 Pieces: Nokturn; Scherzo – Moderato; and Sen o Lalce – Modderato. The teenaged Weinberg evinced a darkly lyrical side, shades of Poe and the Symbolists. Had he heard the Debussy Sonata in G Minor? The jazzy Scherzo could nod to Suk’s Op. 17. The last piece combines French influences – of time (Bergson) and space (Debussy and Roussel) – with his own harmonic explorations.

—Gary Lemco