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Mieczyslaw WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 8. (1942) [19:29]
Piano Sonata, Op. 49bis (1978) [16:23]
Piano Sonata No. 4, Op. 56 (1955) [29:20]
Elisaveta Blumina (piano)
rec. 2016, rbb Saal 3, Berlin
CPO 555 104-2 [65:32]

This is the second disc in Elisaveta Blumina’s excellent series, for cpo, devoted to Weinberg’s piano works. She has also recorded two discs of Weinberg’s chamber music, also for cpo. Blumina is sympathetic to Weinberg’s world, which is at once formal, intense, and sometimes elusive. Weinberg is rather quieter than his friend Shostakovich, less driven to monumentality and less bitter in tone. The seven piano sonatas reveal a wonderful clarity, scaled to the world of Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert. As we discover more of the work of Mieczyslaw Weinberg, it may be that his piano sonatas are the most consistently satisfyingly of all the genres in which he wrote.

The second Sonata, Op. 8, is a war-time work in a recognizably Soviet sonata style. The opening Allegro features clear rhythms, along with some razzle-dazzle for the pianist. What begins as merry music turns into something much more urgent, until three sour final chords remind us that the music only seemed to be merry at the outset. An Allegretto provides a touch of the machine age, although Blumina handles it rather gently. Like the rest of the sonata, the Adagio is always in motion, in this case resembling a baroque dance piece: distant, complex, and ornamented. The Vivace final movement is a celebration of momentum. The piece as a whole is accessible, but not condescending.

Sonata No. 4 from 1955 is the outstanding work on the disc, calling to mind Prokofiev’s greatest sonatas. The sonata here again begins with a jaunty theme, but by the movement’s end Blumina turns it into something forlorn. Latin rhythms dominate the second Allegro, with a ruder interlude bracketed by episodes of great formality. An Adagio is ambitiously grand and serious. This unsmiling music turns to sadness at its conclusion. The concluding Allegro echoes a Schubert rondo – the pianist takes us on a journey, with anxious and dramatic episodes, in a long movement (of nearly 10 minutes). Weinberg’s resigned slow-motion recapitulation of the opening tune reminds us how spooky a trip it has been.

Weinberg’s unnumbered Sonata Op. 49 bis is a 1978 reworking of a 1951 Sonatina dedicated to Shostakovich. A quiet and introspective Allegro leggiero is followed by an Andantino featuring a harshly punctuated Slavic melody. The final Allegretto’s fugato opening is followed by a magnificent bass melody and an eerie, skittish end.

The most recent competition to Blumina’s Weinberg series is from Allison Brewster Franzetti, who has recorded the same music for Grand Piano. Franzetti is the more serious, sometimes playing Weinberg as if he were Shostakovich. In contrast, Blumina adopts a softer-grained approach. Franzetti is more declarative and plays with a greater dynamic range. Blumina invites you to listen more closely. Both artists have intelligent perspectives on this music, and I would not want to be without either. Franzetti has a brighter piano sound, more closely miked as is typical of recordings from Grand Piano. For Blumina, cpo provides a slightly more distant recording.

Richard Kraus

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