When Mieczysław Weinberg died in 1995 he was little known in the West. His reputation has grown greatly in the last twenty years and so has his discography; all seventeen string quartets have been recorded (CPO), for example. With this disc we have Volume 2 of a heralded complete set of Weinberg’s violin sonatas (see review of Volume 1
) - the second such traversal of these works, the first being on Challenge.
Weinberg’s Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes
dates from 1949 and is one of his most popular pieces; he later orchestrated it. It mixes pathos and humor but does not overwhelm one with its significance. More impressive is the Violin Sonata No. 2
, written just after Weinberg had moved to Moscow at the behest of Shostakovich. However, it is Prokofiev who appears to be the major influence here. The allegro is derived from its opening notes and has a Prokofiev-like mix of lyricism and irony. The second movement is also based on its first few notes but the development here shows more individuality than in the first movement. The third follows without a break, but in E-minor as opposed to the opening key of G-major, before a rather spiky finish.
The Sonata No. 5
was written almost a decade after No. 2. As a side-effect of the infamous “Doctor’s Plot”, Weinberg was arrested and thrown into Lubyanka prison for eleven weeks. It is possible that only the death of Stalin prevented him from being sent to the gulag. The Sonata No. 5 was the first piece that Weinberg wrote after being released. It covers a wide range of emotions but the predominant one is isolation, especially in the first and last movements. In between the allegro moto
subjects a simple, heartfelt theme to a harsh, motoric, development. The allegro molto
makes originally humorous music become macabre. It is the sense of isolation that one comes away with and it is perhaps not too fanciful to see this as Weinberg’s own feeling during those eleven weeks.
Around 1960 Weinberg switched from writing accompanied sonatas to sonatas for a single instrument (Khachaturian). The Sonata No. 2 for Violin Solo
dates from 1967 and is as much suite as sonata. It consists of seven interrelated movements (Monody [1:27]; Rests [1:35]; Intervals [1:33]; Repliques [2:20]; Accompaniment [2:34]; Invocation [3:38]; Syncopations [2:58]). This music demonstrates both the composer’s sense of humor and the relatively experimental musical atmosphere prevalent in eastern-bloc countries in the 1960s. Seemingly mundane elements such as rests and intervals are used to produce works of great humor while the solo violin mimics violin and piano in Accompaniment
demonstrate greater feeling.
Yuri Kalnits and Michael Csányi-Wills perform these works with great attention to detail and a genuine understanding of the place of each in Weinberg’s career. One could not exceed the commitment of Kalnits and Csányi-Wills.
These are quite idiomatic performances, although some may prefer the series on Challenge with Linus Roth and José Gallardo. The latter does not include the solo violin sonatas. By contrast the Toccata set once complete will offer all of them.
Previous review: Steve Arloff