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Mieczyslaw WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Piano Trio, Op. 24 [30:23]
Violin Sonatina, Op. 46 [16:59]
Sonata for Double Bass Solo, Op. 108 [20:38]
Elisaveta Blumina (piano); Kolja Blacher (Op. 24), Erez Ofer (Op. 46) (violin); Johannes Moser (cello); Nabil Shehata (double bass)
rec. 24 November 2011 (double bass sonata), 6, 24, 25 January 2012, location not specified
CPO 777 804-2 [68:01]

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' Harmonielehre 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 craft.

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?

Brian Reinhart

Previous reviews: Byzantion ~~ Steve Arloff ~~ Stephen Greenbank