Mieczyslaw Weinberg's piano trio has all the makings of a masterpiece.
It's gripping from the first seconds, and it never lets you go. Weinberg is
in the middle of a huge revival, as his voice is heard ever clearer and
stronger from the Soviet din. This outstanding piano trio could become one
of the cornerstones of the global repertoire.
This is apparent from the very beginning. We begin with a forceful, even
joyful chord, stated by the violin and cello but it's frantically repeated,
and in the repetitions things go awry. The piano injects odd eerie harmonies
that spin into darker, bleaker directions. You might be reminded of the
equally striking opening to a much later piece: Adams'
but Weinberg is not a minimalist. You'll be reminded
of Shostakovich, surely, but Weinberg is very much his own man, rarely more
so than here.
After the prelude, which gradually recedes in intensity, there's a
hyperactive toccata which calls to mind Shostakovich at his most agitated -
Eighth Quartet, maybe, or Tenth Symphony. This is, by the way, staggeringly
virtuosic, so it makes sense that CPO has brought in two star string
players, Kolja Blacher and the versatile cellist Johannes Moser. Pianist
Elisaveta Blumina has her work cut out, too, and she also gets a long solo
to start the slow movement, which provides a respite from the furies.
Weinberg even lets his guard down enough to be genuinely touching. The
lyricism here flows into the finale and meets a dramatic fugue. The result
is a little like when two mountain rivers converge and you can see how the
differently-coloured waters intertwine to form one. Without that heart, the
trio would come across as a lot of bluster and brimstone.
The violin sonatina and double bass sonata are both written on smaller
scales. Actually, the double bass piece is twenty minutes long, but divided
into six short movements. Let's talk about the bass sonata first: it's a
solo suite, with no piano, and it's a spiritual descendant of Bach's cello
suites. On the other hand the sound has nothing at all in common with Bach;
indeed, I'm sort of at a loss trying to compare it to anybody - maybe the
wittiness and off-kilter melodic facility of Prokofiev. The first movement
has a second subject which sounds just a little like Darth Vader's theme. I
suppose the lento fifth movement comes close to being a sarabande and might
be the work's lyrical core.
The violin sonatina is simply the lightest Weinberg I have heard. The
harmonies and emotions are pared down, and even the notes seem to be fewer,
the lines simpler. The music is comparatively untroubled, too. The slow
movement pauses for a jovial folk-waltz, although the lento reprise offers
contrast with the work's most impassioned melody. The finale starts with a
tune that, uncommonly, is both witty and in a minor key. In fact, the
lightness of this music stands in contrast to its key of D minor. How does
it work? It offers a magical interplay of moods, the kind associated with
Schubert and Brahms. This sonatina is a tiny masterpiece of invention and
Elisaveta Blumina, besides serving as pianist, is curating this CPO
chamber series, and she writes a truly outstanding booklet essay which
establishes a personal connection to the music. It also provides valuable
information on Weinberg's life, establishes his high reputation among
performing colleagues, and lucidly explains the works at hand. For this
reason, the present CD would make an excellent introduction to Weinberg's
music. If you've never heard him before, start here and now, without delay.
The other reason to start here is even more compelling: his is one of the
best, most powerful piano trios of the past century. Need I say more?
~~ Steve Arloff
~~ Stephen Greenbank