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Mieczysław WEINBERG (1919-1995) 
Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano, Op. 12 (1943) [23:25]
Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano, Op. 15 (1944) [19:36]
Sonata No. 3 for Violin and Piano, Op. 37 (1947) [21:26]
Agnès Pyka (violin)
Laurent Wagschal (piano)
rec. Studio de Meudon, Paris, 2017
ARION ARN68839 [64:32]

Although Mieczysław Weinberg was born in Warsaw and studied at the Conservatory there, with the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1941 he fled to Tashkent. Two years later, through the intervention of Shostakovich, he moved to Moscow. That same year he began his cycle of six sonatas for violin and piano. This release of nos. 1-3 promises to be the first volume, with sonatas 4-6 to follow in the, hopefully, not too distant future. The violinist Agnès Pyka and pianist Laurent Wagschal are both members of a chamber group who go under the name L'Ensemble Des équilibres. With a taste for discovery the ensemble explore unusual and less-trodden territory. Last year I reviewed their recording of three off-the-beaten-track French string trios, entitled ‘Des Cordes Marines’ (review).

The first three violin and piano sonatas were composed between 1943-47 and each follows a conventional three movement sequence, with two fast movements bookending a central slow one. The unison passages which open the tonally-drafted First Sonata, Op. 12 have a bleak sparseness about them. The movement opens out into a more lyrical landscape yet an underlying chill remains. This is relieved somewhat by a tender, heart-warming Adagietto. I love the duo's perfect matching of phasing and dynamics. The busy finale is chirpy and vivacious.

I get the feeling that by the Second Sonata, Op. 15, penned only a year later in 1944, Weinberg's confidence had grown considerably. Its dedicatees were David Oistrakh and Frieda Bauer, but the work had to wait until 1962 for a premiere by the two distinguished Russian artists. It’s quite introspective and cast in more serious vein than its predecessor. The Lento slow movement seems to wallow in brooding nostalgia, whilst a restless unease permeates the finale. Pyka's diaphanous harmonics and crisp pizzicatos can only be admired. The Sonata ends rather brutally.

The Third Violin and Piano Sonata, Op. 37, was written in 1947 and dedicated to the violinist Mikhail Fichtenholz, like Oistrakh a pupil of Pyotr Stolyarsky. For me, this sonata has been a harder nut to crack, but perseverance has paid off with rich rewards. The outer movements are powerful and intense. The slow movement, “laced with  Jewish tunes”,  has an improvisatory feel to it. The duo contour the ebb and flow of the undulating narrative with true understanding and musicality.

Listening to these compelling performances, there's no doubt in my mind that Pyka and Wagschal are fully inside this music and entirely attuned to the Weinberg idiom. They're graced with a sympathetic acoustic and fine instrumental balance. Liner notes provided by Jens F. Laurson are in French and English. These are persuasive performances that augur well for the rest of the cycle, and I enthusiastically look forward to the next instalment.

Stephen Greenbank

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