Mieczysław WEINBERG (1919-1995) Sonata No. 4 for Violin and Piano, Op. 39 (1947) [19:33]
Sonata No. 5 for Violin and Piano, Op. 53 (1953) [23:48]
Sonata No. 6 for Violin and Piano, Op. 136bis (1982) [11:26]
Agnès Pyka (violin)
Dimitri Vassilakis (piano)
rec. Studio de Meudon, Paris, 2019 ARION ARN68842 [54:52]
I welcome the major renaissance of the music of Mieczysław Weinberg after languishing in obscurity for far too long. With many labels, including CPO, Chandos, Naxos and Toccata Classics in on the act there's no shortage of contenders to fly the flag. The six sonatas for violin and piano have been reasonably served on disc. Last year I had the pleasure of reviewing sonatas 1-3 on the French label Arion, performed by Agnès Pyka (violin) and Laurent Wagschal (piano). At the end of my review I remarked that "I enthusiastically look forward to the next instalment". Well, here it is, featuring sonatas 4-6. Pyka is this time partnered by Greek pianist Dimitri Vassilakis.
The Sonata No. 4, Op. 39 is dated 1947 and bears a dedication to the great Russian violinist Leonid Kogan. The premiere didn't take place until 1968. It's in three movements, slow-fast-slow. The opening Adagio is the most substantial of the three. The piano's lengthy, dark, solemn utterances eventually usher in the violin. The music takes on an introspective mien. The harmonic textures are sparse and austere. The mood lightens in the second movement with a jaunty march, which calls for some impressive bowing effects from the violinist. Playing very close to the bridge elicits a glacial effect. A brief cadenza, full of double stops leads into the final Adagio. It has a static quality, and Pyka surfs the violin's higher reaches with an exquisite diaphanous tone, with perfect intonation. One is reminded of a moonlit scene.
The composer dedicated his Fifth Sonata of 1953 to his older colleague Dmitri Shostakovich. Stalin had just died, and Weinberg had been released from three months incarceration. The work, cast in four movements, gives some inkling of the composer's frame of mind at that particular juncture in his life. The first movement is sombre and elegiac, with a feeling of isolation. There's plenty of more upbeat animated dialogue in the movement which follows. Then there's a buoyant playful dance. The finale makes much of chromatic slithers on the violin, pitched against a chordal piano part. Eventually the two players indulge in a dialogue, where the humorous and macabre merge and become almost indistinguishable.
Weinberg incorrectly marked the Sixth Sonata Op. 136, which he'd already assigned to the Fourth Solo Viola Sonata, hence the intriguing number Op. 136bis. A much later work, it dates from 1982, and was never heard by the composer. He dedicated it to his mother who died in Trawniki concentration camp. It consists of two adagios. The first opens with an extended solo violin passage. The whole work has a quirky gait, is austere and, for the most part, bleak.
Pyka and Vassilakis give convincing performances and, when the music allows, slow down and admire the view. Their performances are also rife with detail and emotionally urgent.
The engineers have achieved a nicely balanced recording, with the Parisian venue sympathetic to the cause. You'll find Jens F. Laurson's insightful liner helpful in supplying background and context. This is music of great beauty and imagination and, for those coming new to Weinberg, it's as good a place to start as any.
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