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Mieczysław WEINBERG (1919–1996)
Complete Violin Sonatas - Volume 3
Sonata for Violin & Piano No. 3, Op. 37 [23:40]
Sonata for Violin & Piano No. 6, Op. 136bis [15:47]
Sonata for Solo Violin No. 3, Op. 126 [21:09]
Yuri Kalnits (violin)
Michael Csanyi-Wills (piano)
Rec. 9-12 July 2015, St. John’s Church, Fulham, London; 7-8 July 2020, K Studios London, (Solo Sonata)

This CD continues the Toccata Classics survey of Weinberg’s violin sonatas, so that now the six sonatas for violin and piano, and the three sonatas for solo violin, plus a couple of other pieces, are on three CDs, with one CD still to come. The recording dates for this survey so far have been from 2008 to 2020, so it has progressed slowly. But the three pieces here are quite substantial enough to make the issue a good stand-alone representative sample of Weinberg’s violin music.

The most ingratiating music comes right at the start, with the first movement Allegro moderato of the Violin Sonata No.3 from 1947. Its four minutes begin with a lyrical theme of varying phrase lengths which the players keep flowing as it were “in one breath”. The fugato style second subject is a perkier counterweight and the sonata form progression is coherently delivered, and the lowish emotional temperature feels just right as there are two movements each twice the length of this one to come. The Andantino is cooler still, and David Fanning’s booklet note informs us that the additional phrase for that marking molto rubato and all other expression marks were removed by Weinberg, so that the players could find their own way of presenting the flexibility he wanted. He could certainly trust this pair whose interpretation makes much of the movement sound questing and improvisatory.

The Allegretto cantabile finale has clear Shostakovich chamber music echoes, as Fanning mentions, specifically the klezmer elements. In fact, in his book on Weinberg, Fanning cites this work of being “one of the comparatively few…that bear out the criticism that (Weinberg) occasionally sought shelter in the shadow of Shostakovich” and mentions “near-literal borrowings”. Nonetheless most of it is still quite individual, not least the slow violin cadenza that closes the work, in which Yuri Kalnits is very commanding.

The other violin and piano sonata here, Weinberg’s sixth and last, was discovered only in 2007, twenty years after the composer’s death, and given the opus number 136bis. Its fifteen-minute single movement, on the template Moderato - Allegro – Moderato – Allegro, opens with a long violin solo. David Fanning notes its similarity to the bell theme in the finale of Rachmaninov’s First Suite for Two Pianos, and although bells often resound in Russian music from Boris Godunov to Stravinsky’s late Requiem Canticles, not many are found in a violin solo! The piano does not enter until two minutes in, and then has its own long solo at the end of this opening Moderato. This is almost texture as three-part form – solo violin, piano and violin duo, then solo piano. Whether playing together or alone, Kalnits and Csanyi-Wills hold the attention throughout this spare and haunting piece.

Arguably the most important work on the disc is the one-movement Sonata No.3 for Solo Violin from 1979, dedicated to Weinberg’s father. Comparisons were made between it and the solo violin works of Bach and Bartok by Gidon Kremer, according to the booklet note to his recording (ECM, 2014). Its nearly twenty-four minute continuous span make for a demanding listen, but Kalnits’s excellent performance makes a persuasive case. He is in much the same class as Kremer here, with different nuances and emphases. I do not think he displaces Kremer, whose sense of greater urgency (Kremer takes 22:14) suits the work’s tragic passion, as does his sense of identification – he even contributes a programme of this own for the work’s eight sections. Those sections are given just one track by Kremer, whose account opens a fine 2-CD set with a varied programme involving the Kremerata Baltica, and including the 10th Symphony. But each of the eight sections is separately tracked on this Toccata disc, which has the more coherent programme, and good sound.

Rediscovering and recording the substantial output of Weinberg in all genres has been happening for some years now, to the great benefit of his reputation and our enjoyment. Weinberg’s Complete Sonatas for Violin and Piano are available on two well-received Naxos CDs (2017) by Grigory Kalinovsky (violin) and Tatiana Gonchalova (piano). They add the Violin Sonatina Op.46, but none of the three solo violin sonatas. Stefan Kirpal (violin) and Andreas Kirpal (piano), offer the same repertoire on 3 CPO CDs (one double CD issue, plus a single CD for sonatas 4 and5). But with Gundula Kirpal (violin) on the double CD you also get the Sonata for Two Violins, and that issue was well reviewed on this website. So with a fourth CD to come, Toccata Classics claim to a “first complete recording” might yet come to pass, if you define ‘complete’ widely enough. For the duo sonatas I have heard only this Kalnits (violin) and Michael Csanyi-Wills partnership and found them very satisfying indeed.

Roy Westbrook

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