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Mieczyslaw WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Sonata No. 1 in C major for cello and piano, Op.21 (1945) [19:31]
Sonata No. 2 in G minor for cello and piano, Op.63 (1959) [21:51]
Sonata for Double-Bass Solo, Op.108 (on cello) (1971) [19:49]
Vinni Pukh (Winnie the Pooh Rhapsody) for cello and piano (1969-72) [7:09]
Marina Tarasova (cello)
Ivan Sokolov (piano)
rec. 2019-20, Victor Popov Studio, Academy of Choral Arts, Moscow.

For record collectors outside the then-Soviet Union, the story of Weinberg can be traced to an HMV Melodiya LP. This was ASD2755 (c. 1971) and contained the Violin Concerto and the Fourth Symphony. You might not have followed this Ariadne thread as his name, at that stage, was rendered as Moise Vainberg. From that point followed a long silence until the CD era gave some very positive kindling. This entailed a very vigorous multi-volume revival at the hands of much missed Olympia. Even that original LP was revived on CD as OCD622. From the early 2000s many companies and artists took up his cause. I think particularly of Manchester’s quartet-in-residence, the Danel who played all 17 of the string quartets and also recorded them for CPO. Their work was complemented by academic and music-writer David Fanning.

The present disc is flag-shipped by the brilliant and fundamentally thoughtful cellist Marina Tarasova. She is as well recognised in Russian cello works as Raphael Wallfisch in most of the instrument’s other repertoire. Here she pilots, with great confidence and aplomb, three broadly 20-minute sonatas and a Winnie the Pooh Rhapsody.

The First Sonata is in only two movements: each monolithic - a Lento running to 7:42 and Un Poco moderato (11:50). The Lento muses and carols while the succeeding and final moderato is touched by thickets of Shostakovich’s style; a composer who was a close friend of Weinberg. The three-movement second sonata flanks a deliciously lulling then disarmingly strange serenade of an Andante. This is matched with a slickly introspective Moderato and a skittery folk-dance Allegro. The six-movement op. 108 solo sonata, transmogrified from double bass to cello and written at a time when Weinberg was awash in sonatas for solo instruments, suffers a little from moody introversion. This mood is disrupted and made more bearable by a mischievous patter-scamper of an allegretto and a touching Lento. Weinberg was good at Lentos. The mood and speed music must have appealed.

The Winnie the Pooh (or more accurately ‘Vinni Pukh’) Rhapsody runs to seven minutes. Vinni Pukh, as rendered pictorially for three early 1970s Soviet film cartoons, is pictured on the last page of the booklet. This bear is only vestigially modelled on the E H Sheppard Pooh. Instead we meet a slightly fearful and whimsically mesmerised bear in full colour, as portrayed by Vyacheslav Golofeev. Poised over a jar of honey and surrounded by a storm, Vinni Pukh confronts us. Shostakovich, Weinberg’s friend, had essayed at least two scores for other cartoons in the 1930s. The Weinberg work was adapted by I Sokholov and has a wild-eyed hay-ride of a cadenza by Tarasova. This Rhapsody is full of grand guignol fantasy and a skim of humour. I wonder if we will ever get to see these cartoons apart from on YouTube. They make for a refreshing alternative to the saccharine of the ubiquitous Disney version. This music work is very enjoyable in its own right. Add this to your store of A A Milne memorabilia.

The disc complements Tarasova’s other Weinberg recordings on Northern Flowers (99131, 99132). The indispensable liner notes are in English only and are by Gavin Dixon. Recording, mixing and mastering is by Alexander Volkov. The recording is gripping, tightly focused and atmospheric.

Rob Barnett

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