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Mieczysław WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Complete Piano Works - vol. 4
Piano Sonata No.3, Op.31 [21:50]
Piano Sonata No.5, Op.58 [25:06]
Two Fugues for Ludmilla Berlinskaya* [3:40]
Piano Sonata No.6, Op.73 [14:00]
Allison Brewster Franzetti (piano)
rec. 23-25 November 2009 (Sonatas); 25-26 June 2010 (Two Fugues), The Gene and Shelley Enlow Recital Hall, Kean University, New Jersey, USA. *World Première Recording.
GRAND PIANO GP611 [64:36]

I’m now a fully fledged and paid-up member of the Weinberg admiration society. I might even say that I’m an addict who can’t get enough of him. With each new release I get temporary relief but always end up wanting more. This disc is good for me since I hadn’t previously heard his 3rd piano sonata. This brilliantly talented composer wrote it in the space of a single week in 1946. The first movement, marked Allegro tranquillo is anything but tranquil, rather it has an air of restlessness that is unsettling but is full of Weinberg’s trademark inventiveness and a memorable tune. The central section is a set of variations that seeks to explore then dispel the first movement’s disturbed character in what the booklet note author David Fanning calls “the archetypal Russian-tragic key of E flat minor”. That’s a key that will always remind listeners to Weinberg of his friend and mentor Shostakovich. The finale is no less austere with a recurrence of the second movement’s opening theme that appears in its closing moments. The sonata ends by melting away mid-phrase into the ether. I am always more moved by this kind of music than any that is light, bright and upbeat in character; sombre satisfies me. If you’re the same you can’t help but be affected by this sonata.
Weinberg’s penultimate piano sonata, his number 5, is heavily influenced by Shostakovich; particularly his 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op.87. If you had never come across Weinberg before, you’d bet money on it being by the older composer, especially the opening three or so minutes. Once you do know the music of this astonishing composer you simply accept that there were influences both ways and then concentrate on what makes the music uniquely his. In this sonata’s case it is a feature in this opening movement; his use of the passacaglia and its length of 603 bars making it unique in all piano repertoire. Again this music is both sombre and melodically superb. The way in which different pianists interpret music is always interesting, especially when it comes to speed. As an example of this while Allison Brewster Franzetti deals with the central andante in 7:10 Murray McLachlan (review) takes 10:27. Their total times for the sonata differ by only two minutes with Brewster Franzetti taking longer than McLachlan in both other movements. No doubt there are arguments in favour of each of these interpretations. As is often the case with such matters I enjoy the most whichever I’m listening to. The music itself is majestic. The finale has some memorable passages, particularly an insistent little tune formed by a pattern of repeated notes that is extremely exciting if disturbing. The movement ends with an echo of the opening passacaglia.
The short Two Fugues for Ludmilla Berlinskaya, of which this is a world première, were written to help the daughter of Valentin Berlinsky, the Borodin Quartet’s cellist, with an exam she faced in stylistic composition. Was Weinberg intending her to pass these off as her own; certainly he presented them to Ludmilla without her father’s knowledge on the evening before the exam. Presumably they were not recognised as being by a master composer by the examiners since there was, as David Fanning points out, a purposeful lack of “constant harmonic felicity”.
The last of Weinberg’s piano sonatas, his sixth, opens with a lovely little four-note tune which gives way to a sad and serious central lament before returning to close the movement. The last movement is propelled along by an insistent rhythmic drive. It features patterns of repeated notes that are so often a feature of Weinberg’s writing and which serve to round off his cycle of piano sonatas magnificently. As Fanning points out, apart from reworking the Sonatina, Op.49 into a full-blown sonata but without a fresh designation, Weinberg never wrote any further substantial works for his own instrument; this despite living for another 36 years after the sixth was completed. Perhaps he felt he’d said it all and what he did write for the piano was so impressive, so deep, so profoundly felt and expressed and so musically satisfying that we are lucky indeed to have it.
Allison Brewster Franzetti is superb in this repertoire with thoughtful interpretations and a wonderfully fluid sound. This disc is equally impressive as the other of hers I reviewed here before: Complete Piano Works, vol. 2 which included Weinberg’s aforementioned Sonatina and his 4th sonata (review).
The introspection that Weinberg weaves into all his piano music is an element that I find particularly satisfying and like Shostakovich it is the solo piano works and chamber music where composers such as these can escape and be themselves, expressing their innermost thoughts in extremely personal ways. It is a privilege to be able to share in this and Franzetti has delivered these thoughts and feelings in a most telling way which makes for a wonderful rounding off of the complete piano works of this incredible musical personality.
Steve Arloff