Friday, 8 July 2016

Mieczyslaw Weinberg sonatas for solo violin from Linus Roth

Weinberg Solo Violin Sonatas - Linus Roth - Channel Classics
Mieczyslaw Weinberg Solo Violin Sonatas, Dmitri Shostakovich Three Fantastic Dances; Linus Roth, Jose Gallardo; Challenge Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 5 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Another side to the emigre Polish composer, his tough yet terrific sonatas for unaccompanied violin

This new disc on Challenge Classics from violinist Linus Roth explores the three sonatas for solo violin by Mieczyslaw Weinberg. Weinberg's music has been getting greater currency recently and Roth has already recorded Weinberg's sonatas for violin and piano, and works for violin and orchestra (see my review). But on this disc he gives us something far tougher, Weinberg's works for solo violin; three big works each lasting over 20 minutes. These are interspersed with music by Weinberg's friend Dmitri Shostakovich, the Three Fantastic Dances.

Born into a Jewish family in Warsaw, Poland in 1919, he studied at the Warsaw Conservatory (headed by Karel Szymanowski) but had to flee in 1939 when German troops attacked Warsaw. He fled East ending up finally in Tashkent. Sending a score to Shostakovich led his moving to Moscow and a friendship with Shostakovich. Weinberg was never a pupil but there are clear links in style between the two.

After writing his Second Sonata for Cello and Piano in 1959, Weinberg seemed to give up on the standard sonata with piano form. Instead over the next 30 years he wrote a series of works for unaccompanied string instruments, three for solo violin, four for solo viola, four for cello and one for double bass. There was a lot else besides during this period, including twelve of his 22 symphonies, ten of his 17 string quartets, which makes you realise quite how much Weinberg there is still to explore.

The three sonatas for solo violin and big, tough works.
All three have a sense of anger running through them; though there is a great variety of style and tone, with some tender moments, you sense the anger simmering beneath. Neither easy for player nor listener, they repay attention and are works full of imagination. The influence of Shostakovich is clear, but you can hear echoes of Stravinsky (though I am not clear how much of his music Weinberg would be aware of in the USSR) and Bartok's music for solo violin seems to be not a world away.

The Solo Violin Sonata No. 1, Op.82 was written in 1964 and was premiered in 1965 by its dedicatee, Mikhail Fichtenholz. In five movements, which seemed to be arranged with a distant link to the sonatas and partitas of Bach, it is seriously tough piece yet one tempered by lyrical moments such as the Andante second movement.

The Solo Violin Sonata No. 2, Op.95 was written in 1967 and there seems to be no evidence of a first performance, though the sonata was dedicated to Fichtenholz as was the third. In seven short movements, it is perhaps the most approachable of the three, the acerbic nature of Weinberg's inspiration a little tempered here. But that is not to say that it is sunny, this is still tough music.

The third sonata is a single span lasting a whopping 27 minutes. Premiered in 1978, it is dedicated to the memory of Shmil Weinberg, Mieczyslaw's father who had been a composer and conductor at the Yiddish Theatre.

The three pieces by Shostakovich are all short, but form a delightful punctuation.

Linus Roth gives a superb performance throughout. Technically strong, he neither disguises nor underestimates the toughness and technical challenges of the pieces, bringing out the wiry strength underneath. Yet he is also capable of great tenderness. In all three his sense of the architecture his finely sustained, especially in the last sonata.

This disc provides us with further insight into a remarkable voice in 20th century music.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996) - Solo Violin Sonata No.1, Op.82
Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996) - Solo Violin Sonata No.2, Op.95
Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996) - Solo Violin Sonata No.3, Op.126
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), arr. Harry Glickman - Three Fantastic Dances
Linus Roth (violin)
Jose Gallardo (piano)
Recorded Jesus-Christus Kirche Berlin-Dahlem (Weinberg) and Moromusic Studios Mechelen, Belgium (Shostakovich)

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