Weinberg String Quartets, Vol. 1

Two fine new releases of chamber music from a distinctive symphonist

Author: 
Guy Rickards

Weinberg String Quartets, Vol. 1

  • String Quartet No. 4
  • String Quartet No. 16
  • Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1
  • Sonata for Cello No. 1
  • Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2

While the music of Mieczyslaw Weinberg has received attention on disc, given the size of his output this has been patchy. With a symphony cycle in progress on Chandos, CPO has begun a survey of his 17 string quartets, while BIS has recorded his two fine cello sonatas with the first of his four for unaccompanied cello.

The Fourth Quartet (1945) dates from the time of his association with Shostakovich and this shows clearly in the set of its themes and the harmonic writing. Yet there is much about the music that is distinctly Weinberg’s own, from the kaleidoscopic treatment of the initially pastoral opening movement to the affectingly off-kilter finale. The Sixteenth was composed in early 1981 and while audibly the work of the same inventive mind, the expressive language is quite different, graver and more reflective. The resonances of Shostakovich and Britten are familiar from other Weinberg scores but echo the disquiet that those masters brought to some of their late output. The Danel Quartet play both works with commendable facility and understanding; the list of persons they thank for support in the booklet avers that their interest in the music is well informed and considered. Occasionally, in some of the higher passages, the violins’ intonation is a touch edgy, but on the whole these are fine and committed performances, and eminently recommendable.

So, too, are those by Alexander Chaushian and Yevgeny Sudbin of the two Cello Sonatas, though here they have historical competition from the composer, accompanying Alla Vasilieva in 1978 (nla). As performances there is not much to choose between them; Chaushian has the measure of both works – even more so the fine First Solo Sonata (1960) with which John Warrack was unimpressed in Yosif Feigelson’s premiere recording (Olympia, 11/97 – nla) – but Vasilieva has perhaps a dash more fire. Sudbin’s excellent accompaniments similarly cannot quite match Weinberg’s own. Where BIS scores heavily is in the sound quality, which is as usual top-notch.

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