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Mieczyław Weinberg (1919-1996)
Light in Darkness
Piano Trio Op. 24 (1945)
Sonata for Two Violins Op. 69
Two Songs without Words (1947)
Sonatensatz II WoO
Linus Roth, Janusz Wawrowski (violin), Josť Gallardo (piano), Danjulo Ishizaka (cello)
rec. 2020/21, Ochsenhausen, Germany

Violinist Linus Roth writes in his notes for this disc that he really became aware of Mieczysław Weinberg only in 2010. A lot of water has gone under the musical bridge since then: there is barely a month when another disc of his music has not been released. I have just finished one review, and here I am writing another; a few more are in the offing. If you have discovered this endlessly fascinating composer, this is a marvellous prospect. We should be truly thankful, for once bitten the listener cannot get enough of Weinberg.

The Piano Trio begins in a characteristically bold, almost challenging fashion, as if we had been eavesdropping on a conversation which had just reached a declamatory stage. This mood is soon replaced by a tentative violin with gentle piano asides. There follows a section in which the violin’s strings are plucked, accompanied by odd piano notes. The second movement, a toccata, leaps in all guns blazing with an energetic irresistible drive. The notes fairly rain down upon you, particularly from an insistent piano. The piano seems still to be in assertive mood in the opening of the third movement marked Poem before it calms down. The violin and the cello weave a gentle melody maintained for some time, rising in intensity at various stages. All three instruments end up raising their voices, demanding to be heard. The climax comes in the form of a return to the opening melody, and the movement disappears like a puff of smoke. The finale, the work’s longest movement, shows each instrument off with some dazzling flashes. They remind the listener of Shostakovich but there is a distinct, easily identifiable way which Weinberg made his own.

As the disc’s title, Light in Darkness, suggests, Weinberg always ensured that in the most despairing episodes in his music he was determined to inject a shaft of sunlight to burn through the stormiest of clouds. That gave hope, as it very definitely does at the end of the Piano Trio, an early composition for Weinberg. He wrote it only two years after arriving in Moscow, fleeing from Nazi-occupied Poland. However, it embodies a style and power that remained uniquely his own throughout his compositional life.

Linus Roth notes that substantial sonatas for two violins are rare in the repertoire but Weinberg’s piece stands critical comparison with Prokofiev’s better known one. Dedicated to Leonid Kogan and his wife Elizaveta Gilels, the great pianist Emil’s sister, this sonata explores the very limits of the instrument’s abilities. The opening, with a Bachian flavour, is a complex set of variations whose forward propulsive energy is interrupted by a contemplative central section that further explores the main theme of the opening. The urgency returns, taking this onward towards the movement’s close. Bookended by a plaintive phrase, the second movement is a heartfelt and very lovely melody, amongst which Weinberg characteristically slips in some Jewish themes. A very pleasant melody which opens the final movement is present throughout it though in a mix of frenetic energy and looming threat in its central section. Linus Roth suggests there is material here that the makers of horror films and thrillers could usefully mine. He must have had in mind Bernard Herrmann’s shower scene from Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Next up are Two Songs without Words for violin and piano. They are nearer to a 19th century sound than usual for Weinberg’s music, and uncommonly sweet. Unsurprisingly, he never allows any hint at banality. A nod to Mendelssohn, they would I can imagine be an obvious choice for such a duo to present as encores in a recital.

The final offering on this disc is a piece entitled Sonatensatz II, a beautiful tune shared between violin and piano. It is considerably dark though with a veiled promise of lighter times to come. Linus Roth writes that this could be a warning: we should work to ensure that we will never permit such dark times as Weinberg had to live through to recur, and that hope always follows darkness.

Among the increasing number of discs of Weinberg’s music that have been thankfully appearing in recent years, this one is especially significant. It shows the superb command Weinberg displayed in his chamber music. Each of these works, an exemplar of its genre, get a superlative performance. Linus Roth has written how much of a revelation Weinberg’s music has been to him. The obvious thrill he experiences in playing it is shared with the other three performers, and through them is imparted to the listener. This disc will never be far from my player, and it is thoroughly recommended.

Steve Arloff

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