WEINBERG Complete Violin Sonatas Vol 1
With cycles on CPO, Chandos, Neos and now Toccata Classics, Mieczysław Weinberg’s time has certainly come. It’s customary for reviewers of Weinberg’s music to issue reminders about his associations with Shostakovich – that their music shares a certain surface similarity, that a letter from Shostakovich was all that was required to rescue Weinberg from the KGB when he was imprisoned in 1953.
But if we’re going to throw Shostakovich-based comparisons around, Weinberg is but a pipsqueak of history compared to Galina Ustvolskaya, who managed to bypass the idiom of Shostakovich’s music and peer into the “thing” itself, which is why it’s better to judge Weinberg’s music on its own considerable strengths. As booklet-note writer and source of all Weinberg knowledge David Fanning implies, the First Violin Sonata (1943) plods over the long haul, but its deliberate melodic contours, subtle shades of Bach and bold chromatic hopscotch contain the kernel of his art.
Yuri Kalnits and Michael Csányi-Wills prove uber-sensitive to Weinberg’s harmonic push-pull, and Kalnits’s performance of the Sonata No 1 for Violin Solo (1964) rolls with the technical punches like a true heavyweight: especially intriguing is the central Allegretto movement, where disembodied pizzicato, scampering melodic cells and march rhythms chase each other’s tales, and I like the way Kalnits resists any temptation to smooth off these structural disjoints, accepting that this material is irreconcilable. The Fourth Violin Sonata opens with unaccompanied piano, the distinction between foreground and background freakishly distorted, the harmony dropped into alien terrain midway. The Sonatina was one for The Party but is stuffed with peekaboo ambiguities. Volume 2 soon, please.