Mieczysław WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Piano sonata No.2 op.8 [19:29]
Piano sonata op.49bis [16:23]
Piano sonata No.4 op.56 [29:20]
Elisaveta Blumina (piano)
rec. Deutschlandfunk Kultur rbb Saal 3, Berlin, 2016
CPO 555 104-2 [65:32]
It wasn’t long ago that the name of Mieczysław Weinberg was barely known, with just a few works of his available on disc whereas now it seems there is sufficient interest to encourage several musicians as well as orchestras to want to tackle his works. In recent years there have been recordings released of his violin sonatas, symphonies, chamber symphonies, sinfoniettas, clarinet sonatas, works for double bass and his string quartets and I look forward to reviewing a DVD of his opera The Passenger. When it comes to piano works there have been several releases of his piano sonatas with at least two pianists who are embarked on complete surveys of them all, Elisaveta Blumina, whose disc this review concerns and Allison Brewster Franzetti, while Murray McLachlan has already completed his survey.
Over the years that I have got to know his music, I have become fascinated with the wealth of invention in his music as well as the striking similarity between it and that of his friend and mentor Dmitri Shostakovich. I have written about this several times and it is something that is difficult to avoid so here I am again making mention of it. Weinberg wrote his second sonata in Tashkent to where he had been evacuated, and where he met Shostakovich, himself an evacuee. Whatever impression the older composer can have had upon the younger before they met or on meeting him, that cannot alone account for the fact that even at this early stage in their friendship they shared the same sound-world, a world that seems unique to them for I certainly know of no others who share a similar one. This is yet another occasion when I wish I had had a musical education for I might then be better equipped to express precisely what I find so similar in their approach, how they juxtapose notes in a similar fashion, their choice of harmonies and much more besides. What is certain is that if you enjoy the music of either you will surely enjoy the music of both. I can also see why Elisaveta Blumina finds a similarity between Weinberg and Mozart with their dance-like rhythms; there is a definite impression of delicacy in the music that demands being danced to as well as what appears an easy facility in writing music that is so immediately enjoyable.
The opening of Weinberg’s op.49bis is another case in point, with its beguiling tune, simple in structure yet with such a winning way to it that you cannot help finding your spirits lifted. The waltz-like opening of the second movement is equally uplifting; if, as the notes say, this sonata met the demands of socialist realism then it was not all bad after all otherwise how could it be described as it is here as “appealing and melodious”? The final movement moves to something much darker though no less appealing for all that and the expanding of the sonata that Weinberg undertook in 1978 created a work that stands as a good example of what this endlessly fascinating composer could create on a seemingly never-ending basis.
With the final work on this disc, his Piano sonata no.4, Weinberg presents us with another strikingly effective and affecting opening and does it again with the second movement, both of which belie the darkness which hovers beneath the surface of this sonata, with its reflection of the holocaust within its notes. This element is most apparent in the third movement adagio, which is sad indeed, making the opening of the final movement a surprise with a jolly dance-like tune that is then distorted to sound strident and discordant as if to say that although life must go on memories of past grief always return to prey upon those who are left behind. Elements of the first two movements are recalled, though this time the carefree nature is viewed through a darker prism on which note the sonata comes to an end.
What is particularly appealing about Elizaveta Blumina’s playing is her lissome approach which adds an extra luminosity, revealing much in the music that is otherwise less obvious. In delicate passages her reading perfectly interprets Weinberg’s intentions while elsewhere she meets whatever challenges the composer presents with insightful playing that makes listening a joy.
Previous review: Richard Kraus