Mieczyslaw WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Complete Piano Works 3
Children's Notebook - Book I, op.16 (1944) [13:10]
Children's Notebook - Book II, op.19 (1944) [17:07]
Children's Notebook - Book III, op.23 (c.1946) [12:39]
21 Easy Pieces, op.34 (1946) [17:46]
Can-Can, in Honour of Rastorguyevo (1965) [1:09]
Allison Brewster Franzetti (piano)
rec. Kean University, New Jersey, USA, 25-26 June 2010. DDD
GRAND PIANO GP610 [61:49] 

On the face of it, Grand Piano's third volume in Allison Brewster Franzetti's recording of Weinberg's complete works for solo piano looks like one for the most serious of collectors or stoutest of Weinberg fans only. The three Children's Notebooks and Easy Pieces op.34 seem to add up to an hour's worth of music that hardly qualifies as 'essential' Weinberg, especially in comparison with the three Sonatas of volume 1 (GP603) and a further Sonata and Partita in volume 2 (GP607, review). These are not even first recordings: the three Children's Notebooks appeared both in 2011, played by Elisaveta Blumina for CPO (777 517-2), and in 2010, with Jascha Nemtsov on Hänssler Classic (93.233).
 
Yet what true music-lover would be without Schumann's Kinderszenen or Album for the Young or Debussy's Children's Corner? Weinberg is every bit as compelling a composer as Schumann or Debussy, as his rapidly growing discography testifies.
 
The 21 Easy Pieces were written in the space of three summer days in 1946, a fact to which their brevity - the shortest lasts barely fifteen seconds! - relative simplicity and general upbeat nature testify. For Weinberg these primarily pedagogic pieces probably felt like a well-earned rest after the recent Third Sonata.
 
Of much more interest are the somewhat misdirectingly named Children's Notebooks. Though Weinberg had them published in three sets, the final volume also contained the previous two, and the composer had written 23 Preludes on the surviving manuscripts, indications that he also saw them as a contiguous project. At the time he had befriended Shostakovich, whose own Children's Notebook op.69 was completed shortly after Weinberg's. Whereas Shostakovich's were aimed at his six-year-old daughter, only child prodigies are likely to have much joy with most of Weinberg's! Their sophistication lies not only in their post-war harmonies but in their slightly noirish expressiveness, hinting at emotional depths and nooks beyond a child's ken. Nevertheless, with a typical length of two minutes and a rhythmic lyricism underpinning every item, audiences of all ages should find the Notebooks a very satisfying experience.
 
New York-born Allison Brewster Franzetti rounds off with a sub-minute Can-Can, which sounds as though it dates from Weinberg's own childhood, although he actually wrote it in 1965! Brewster Franzetti is wife of Argentina-born composer-pianist Carlos Franzetti, best known perhaps for his jazz/'classical' fusion music, which the couple have played and indeed recorded together (see review). Her two previous Weinberg volumes were very well received, and Brewster Franzetti again shows herself to be on multi-faceted, persuasive form. She needs to be too, because this cycle has some mano a mano competition from Scottish pianist Murray McLachlan, whose recording of Weinberg's six Piano Sonatas proper has just been released by Divine Art in two consecutive volumes of their excellent Russian Piano Music series (DDA25105, DDA25107).
 
Sound quality is very good, although it should be noted that the recording is close up. David Fanning's English-German notes are well written, and there are some nice black-and-white photos of the composer from the archives.
 
Naxos/HNH's Grand Piano label has got off to a flying start, with twenty releases so far in its first year. All have featured a different cover painting by the Norwegian artist Gro Thorsen, which if nothing else adds to the collectible allure of the series.
 
Byzantion
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Brewster Franzetti again shows herself to be on multi-faceted, persuasive form.