Classical CD Reviews

WEINBERG: Solo Sonata No. 3; Trio for Violin, Viola, and Cello; Sonatina for Violin and Piano; Concertino for Violin and String Orch.; Symphony No. 10 for String Orch. – Gidon Kremer & Kremerata Baltica – ECM New Series

Violinist-conductor Gidon Kremer and his select Baltic ensemble explore the romantic/experimental side of Mieczyslaw Weinberg.

Published on August 18, 2014

WEINBERG: Solo Sonata No. 3; Trio for Violin, Viola, and Cello; Sonatina for Violin and Piano; Concertino for Violin and String Orch.; Symphony No. 10 for String Orch. – Gidon Kremer & Kremerata Baltica – ECM New Series

WEINBERG: Solo Sonata No. 3, Op. 126; Trio for Violin, Viola, and Cello, Op. 48; Sonatina for Violin and Piano, Op. 46; Concertino for Violin and String Orchestra, Op. 42; Symphony No. 10 for String Orchestra, Op. 98 – Gidon Kremer, violin/ Daniil Grishin, viola/ Giedre Dirvanauskaite, cello/ Daniiil Trifonov, piano/ Danielis Rubinas, doublebass/ Kremerata Baltica – ECM New Series 2368/69 (2 CDs), 50:00, 52:00 (2/18/14) [Distr. by Universal] ****:

Violin virtuoso Gidon Kremer (b. 1947) has long pioneered Soviet and/or Russian music in his concerts, including the likes of Schnittke, Pärt, and Sylvestrov. In a series of concerts towards the end of last year, Kremer toured with Martha Argerich, performing works by Weinberg and Beethoven. This major survey of Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996) embraces music from two periods of the Weinberg oeuvre, although it focuses on compositions of 1948-1950. The more experimental Solo Sonata (1978), which opens the set, stands as an inflamed doorway to a remarkable vista of creative work.

Kremer argues for seven sections to depict the progress of the Solo Sonata, according to which the piece evolves as a kind of Freudian self-portrait dedicated to Weinberg’s father, often tortuous, that bears the Weinberg motto of epiphany through epic struggle.  The complexity and textural severity of the writing – often grating, atonal, piercing, and disruptive of the vocal line -  aligns the piece to the spirit of the Bartok Solo Sonata. Kremer likens the final section to a “Dialogue with Eternity,” a sequence lacking constant rhythmic accents, and proffering other-worldly pizzicato and vanishing tone, unless you count the chirps for existential meaning.

In immediate and grateful contrast, the String Trio (1950) projects a more romantic sensibility, though highly indebted to Shostakovich for its mode of expression. A mixture of optimism and fatalism permeates the Weinberg spirit, with its dark chromatic line that can explode into a kind of ethnic dance. In the first movement Allegro con moto, viola Daniil Grishin exhibits his special prowess. The lyrical Andante opens in the manner of a slow fugue, strict in form and lachrymose in character. Once more, we feel the debt to both Bartok and Shostakovich. Still, the vocal element dominates, particularly in the violin part. The last movement, Moderato assai, establishes a pizzicato pulse, while cello and klezmer violin weave a serpentine melody that wants to dance in heavy tread.

The 1949 Sonatina for Violin and Piano clearly represents a romantic atavism, rife with plangent melodies and fluent expressiveness. More beholden to Prokofiev than to Shostakovich, the lyric element moves gently, without the biting sarcasm Shostakovich would posit. The heart of the piece lies in the middle movement Lento, a folkish and modal song reminiscent of aspects of Ernest Bloch. The middle section becomes quite animated, and Kremer indulges in rich double stops. The piano sound Trifonov brings to the piece rings with clarion authority. The last movement, Allegretto moderato, has a pseudo-martial quality, but the tenor remains playful and virtuosic. The violin descends into its low tessitura then sails skyward in affirmation. The last minute plays like a serene epilogue to the whole, a resigned sigh concluding a most gratifying work.

In reaction to “formalistic” criticism from the Soviet officials, Weinberg conceived his Concertino, Op. 42 (1948), with its airy and ironic synthesis of sweet melody and light, plastic dance forms, like the waltz in the third movement. The angular quality of the first movement lyricism could be attributed to Dag Wiren or Arnold Bax, depending on the harmonic syntax. Kremer applies an alternately suave or rasping tone to extend the melodic line, though the last notes dance impishly. A small cadenza opens the Lento movement, almost homage to the Ravel Tzigane. The ensuing dialogue of violin and orchestra moves in figures reminiscent of folk dance cross-fertilized by klezmer influences. Marked Allegro moderato poco rubato, the third movement employs the Shostakovich notion of a waltz that increasingly assumes kinetically eldritch vibrations.

The Moscow Chamber Orchestra and Rudolf Barshai commissioned the Tenth Symphony, Op. 98 (1968) by Weinberg, a concert piece for 17 solo instrumentalists, in the same spirit as the Richard Strauss Metamorphosen. In five movements, often utilizing devices from the Second Viennese School, the piece celebrates – if rather darkly – the general tone of intellectual relaxation and freedom of expression that followed the death of Stalin. Weinberg divides his forces to play against each other or in inversion, a procedure specifically specified in Movement 5: Inversion. L’istesso tempo. The acerbic string tone, set in strict polyphony in the agitated Grave opening movement, easily recalls the somber mood of Bartok.  Weinberg separates a string quartet sonority distinct from the tutti – much like Vaughan Williams – which cellist Dirvanauskaite exploits to full advantage.

The somberly lyric Pastorale: Lento follows Alban Berg in its use of triadic serialism, a use of the 12-tone row in chordal combinations produce progressive clusters of sound over a haunted bass patter. The solo violin confirms the influence of the Berg Violin Concerto, but the cello, too, has a massive solo. The semi-martial Canzona: Andantino palpably lightens the mood, though dark hues cast shadows everywhere. The melodic line eerily recalls a quiet dance from Prokofiev, utilizing a bass fiddle (D. Rubinas) to extend the moment. Typical of Bartok, the tersely unnerving Burlesque of Weinberg contrasts low staccato chords against tenor and soprano viols, legato. A surreal dance of death proceeds, certainly in the ironic tradition of Shostakovich. Kremer and quartet constituents argue feverishly to begin the last movement, quite in the mode of a Schoenberg concertante piece. The violin solo, declamatory, incites more aleatory-sounding responses, mostly shrieks and anguish that resolve into a grim chorale. Recorded 2012 and 2013, these heartbreaking tones come to us with savage presence.

—Gary Lemco




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