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Mieczysław WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Complete Sonatas for Solo Viola
Sonata No. 1, Op. 107 (1971) [24.41]
Sonata No. 2, Op. 123 (1978) [15.46]
Sonata No. 3, Op. 135 (1982) [31.07]
Sonata No. 4, Op. 136 (1983) [22.37]
rec. 2015-17, La Caja Acustica Studios, Mexico City
Viacheslav Dinerchtein (viola)
SOLO MUSICA SM310 [40.19 + 53.44]

The Solo Musica label has released a double CD set of Weinberg’s complete sonatas for solo viola, performed by the Minsk (Belarus)-born Viacheslav Dinerchtein, who moved to Mexico with his family as a teenager.

Starting in 1960 Weinberg, inspired by the talents of great solo performers, became greatly interested in sonatas for solo instruments (excluding the ones for solo piano) and over the next twenty-five years wrote thirteen solo sonatas for violin (3), cello (4), viola (4), double bass (1) and bassoon (1). Weinberg wrote his four unaccompanied sonatas for solo viola, all of which are dedicated to renowned viola players of the day, between 1971 and 1983. 

The 1971 First Sonata for solo viola in four movements bears a dedication to Fyodor Druzhinin who later become violist of the Beethoven Quartet. This was the last viola sonata where Weinberg appended expression/tempi markings to his movements; later, he used metronome markings. I found the sonata to be tough, fibrous, austere and notable for the restless and disconcerting character of the opening Adagio and second movement Allegretto. Lengthy at nine minutes, the Finale: Adagio is decidedly intriguing for its form, a theme and set of variations. Cast in five movements the Second Sonata for solo viola (1978) is dedicated to Dmitri Shebalin the violist son of composer Vissarion Shabalin. At just under sixteen minutes to perform here, the score has the shortest duration of the four solo viola sonatas. The buoyant, upbeat tone of the second movement is notable, while the energetic, rather exhibitionist Finale provides a stark contrast to the predominantly cheerless, searching character of the remaining three movements.

Written in 1982, the Third Sonata for solo viola is, at just over thirty-one minutes here, the longest of the four solo viola sonatas to perform. The challenging five-movement score is dedicated to Mikhail Tolpigo who was principal viola of both USSR Symphony Orchestra and Mexico National Symphony Orchestra.

This is my favourite of the cycle of four unaccompanied sonatas. The third movement stands out for its motoric quality and sense of scurrying, as does the following movement, which is infused with a yearning expression of a world-weary quality. The Fourth Sonata for solo viola was composed in Moscow in 1983. Cast in three movements, the score is also dedicated to Mikhail Tolpigo. Undemonstrative and controlled, the Fourth is conspicuous for its especially restrained opening movement with its undertone of longing. Notable too is the virtuosic second movement in the manner of a Scherzo, which is infused with a range of moods from agitation to playfulness to disconsolation.

Probably more suitable for the specialist collector, this album of viola sonatas cannot in all honesty be recommended to the general listener. That is not because of their compositional complexity but more because, in the manner of Hindemith’s cycle of unaccompanied viola sonatas, these works are deeply cerebral in character and in terms of holding my attention I find the album quite hard going. Possibly reflecting the composer’s personal circumstances in Soviet Russia, overall the often-encountered astringency and unrelenting bleakness of the writing can be oppressive. Taking each sonata separately proved much more satisfying than listening to the whole album at one sitting.

Throughout this set of unaccompanied viola sonatas, soloist Viacheslav Dinerchtein confidently displays his thoughtful intelligence, technical expertise and effective tone production. Dinerchtein recorded the four sonatas in 2015-17 at La Caja Studios, Mexico City and the sound engineers for Solo Musica provide satisfying clarity and presence. Weinberg biographer David Fanning has written the helpful booklet note.

Michael Cookson

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