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Mieczysław WEINBERG (1919-1995)
Complete Sonatas for Violin and Piano
Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano, Op. 12 (1943) [27:49]
Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano, Op. 15 (1944) [23:31]
Sonata No. 3 for Violin and Piano, Op. 37 (1947) [24:39]
Sonata No. 4 for Violin and Piano, Op. 39 (1947) [21:42]
Sonata No. 5 for Violin and Piano, Op. 53 (1953) [25:57]
Sonata No. 6 for Violin and Piano, Op. 136bis (1982) [19:31]
Milan Pala (violin)
Ladislav Fanzowitz (piano)
rec. live 2019, Besední dům, Brno Philharmonie, Brno, Czech Republic
PAVLIK RECORDS PA 0183-2131 [76:02 + 67:19]

2019 marked the centenary of the birth of Mieczysław Weinberg, a composer who, until recently, suffered neglect for far too long. The anniversary was marked by two concerts at the Moravian Autumn festival in October of that year, featuring the composer’s six Sonatas for Violin and Piano. The performers were violinist Milan Pala and pianist Ladislav Fanzowitz, a duo who have collaborated for many years, specializing in 20th century music. Brno’s Besední dům was the choice of venue for these concerts, and this recent release derives from the two live performances.

The first five sonatas were written over a ten year period between 1943 to 1953, a turbulent time in the composer’s life. The last sonata came much later in 1982. It’s not certain why Weinberg abandoned the genre for thirty years, but the Sonata No. 6 is the only one of the cycle he never heard performed. Sonatas 1-3 are cast in the traditional fast-slow-fast pattern.

Despite moments of lyricism trying to break through, there’s an underlying chill permeating the Sonata No. 1, but the Adagietto radiates more uplifting climes. The animated finale is upbeat and cheery. The Second Sonata came a year later in 1944. David Oistrakh and Frieda Bauer, to whom it was dedicated, didn’t perform it until much later in 1962. It reveals a more confident hand in its scoring. Overall, the character is introspective, and is particularly wistful in the backward glances of the slow movement. The third movement calls for harmonics and pizzicatos, which Pala negotiates in true virtuosic fashion. The closing pages are registered forcefully. The Third Sonata followed in 1947, and bears a dedication to Mikhail Fichtenholz, like Oistrakh a pupil of Pyotr Stolyarsky. It certainly doesn’t reveal its riches as easily as its predecessors. The two intense outer movements frame a slow movement, embroidered with Jewish tunes.

Leonid Kogan is the dedicatee of the Sonata No. 4, also from 1947. The radiant opening movement is drafted on a more substantial scale at 12 minutes. Inward-looking, its meandering course has an improvisatory feel. The middle movement sounds as though it could have originated from the pen of Shostakovich, Weinberg’s mentor. It calls for some virtuosic bowing effects, and the piano part is far from a walk-over. A brief tortuous cadenza, full of double stops, announces the Adagio finale. Each time I hear it, I’m reminded of a moonlit scene, evoked by the violinist’s flights into the upper reaches. The Fifth Sonata is dedicated to Shostakovich. This is the only sonata in four movements. The work reflects the personal circumstances the composer found himself in at the time. The year was 1953, Stalin had just died, and Weinberg had been released from three months incarceration. So, the first movement is sombre and elegiac. A lighter movement follows, and then comes a sprightly, playful dance. The finale marries the macabre and the humourous. A gap of almost thirty years separates this Sonata from No. 6. The composer incorrectly marked the Sixth Sonata Op. 136, which he'd already assigned to the Fourth Solo Viola Sonata, hence the intriguing number Op. 136bis. The dedicatee is Weinberg’s mother who died in Trawniki concentration camp. The first movement begins with an extended solo violin passage. It becomes strikingly dissonant. The Adagio is enveloped in a dreamy haze, whilst the third movement is harsh and desolate.

There’s real frisson and excitement in these performances, and no doubt the audience presence inspires the players. Applause has been retained. Passion, subtlety and nuance are the ingredients that spice up these compelling readings by Pala and Fanzowitz.

These potently imaginative scores constitute an ideal starting point for newcomers to Weinberg’s music.

Stephen Greenbank

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