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Mieczyslaw WEINBERG (1919-1996)
On the threshold of hope
Clarinet Sonata op. 28 (1945) [18:41]
Jewish Songs after Shmuel Halkin op. 17 (1944) [14:40]
Piano Quintet op. 18 (1944) [43:22]
ARC Ensemble: Joaquin Valdepeñas (clarinet); Dianne Werner (piano); Richard Margison (tenor); Erika Raum (violin I); Marie Bérard (violin II); Steven Dann (viola); Bryan Epperson (cello); David Louie (piano)).
rec. Toronto Centre for the Arts, 14, 16 April 2006 (opp. 18, 28); Willowdale United Church, Toronto, 12 June 2006 (op. 17). DDD
RCA/BMG RED SEAL 828768 77692 [74:43]
Experience Classicsonline

Weinberg (aka Vainberg) was a Russian Jew of Moldovan extraction. He enjoyed, then endured, the various phases through which Soviet Jewry lived in Soviet Russia. The clouds only parted - and just in time too - on the death of Stalin in 1953. A favoured pupil of Shostakovich, Weinberg benefited from the comparatively lavish life of a celebrity composer in Moscow and this continued after Shostakovich's death in 1975.
The three works being played here date from the years after Hitler's Operation Barbarossa - the Nazi invasion of the USSR in 1941. Safety beckoned in the Soviet capital although Weinberg's fortunes remained fragile until 1953.
The Clarinet Sonata is a comparatively untroubled melodic work. It seems in the first movement to depict a happy home-life with only the occasional dark intimation. The clarinet's line coincides with passages in the Finzi Clarinet Concerto. The second movement has the character of a saunter around a city in the cool of the evening. There are occasional pauses for a klezmer soliloquy as at 3:12. Typically for Weinberg the last movement is a melancholically pensive Adagio that resonates with tragic power and protest. The piano part carries a particularly memorable strummed ostinato effect.
In the six songs Richard Margison is something of a heldentenor with baritonal overtones. The songs range from ringing hysterical exhortation to a much lighter cantilena as in Di muter. Margison's enunciation is crystal clear.  These songs have an heroic pressure behind them but the melodic caste places them squarely in the Schubertian lieder tradition.
The Piano Quintet - in five movements - is a major work in every sense. Rather like the Galynin piano works heard recently on Toccata the piano part has the song-line of Shostakovich in the Second Piano Concerto. This impression returns in the keyboard torrents of the Presto (III) although leavened by a disorientating and refracted flavour of cafe culture. The string quartet parts are more resolute and rhetorical reflecting the shuddering and tragic manner of the times. March figures flit in and out, clouds scud across the horizon, and a troubled equipoise is secured out only after grief. That Schubertian foundation can be heard again throughout this work although it has had infused into it large draughts of tragic discord and haunting fear. This is a far tougher, more knowing and adult work than the other two. The music is blown hither and thither by the hot winds of war. The Presto (III)  ends with a raspingly exciting thunder of notes and slashing double flourish from piano and quartet. Shostakovich amid the T34s and Katyushas sounds out in the powerful stirring Largo (IV) although the Schubertian wistfulness returns for the central piano-led heart of the movement even if the piano line is clearly a slowed fanfare. This movement is unsurprisingly the heart of the piece in much the same manner as equivalent movements provide the rooted core of the Shostakovich wartime symphonies. The Allegro agitato starts in an abrupt, incessant-obsessive insistence. This soon falls away into a classically dancing reminiscence of happy days. This is soon fractured and collaged and the shards are moved in a kaleidoscope of reminiscence and fantasy. The work ends in a chipping and stuttering interplay from piano and violin fading into silence; no circus finale here. The quintet was premiered by Emil Gilels in Moscow in 1944.
I should add that Dianne Werner is the pianist in the first two works and David Louie in the last. The liner-notes are by the late Per Skans. The words of the songs are printed legibly in the booklet in both the sung Yiddish and in parallel English translation.
The Quintet has the confident air of a masterpiece of beauty, torment and tragedy. However all three pieces are deeply sincere, accomplished and memorable.
Rob Barnett


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