Allison Brewster Franzetti

Mieczyslaw Weinberg: Complete Piano Works, Vol. 1

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Polish-Russian composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg, also known as Moises Vainberg, has received a flurry of attention in the new century for works that showed the influence of both Shostakovich and Prokofiev but aped neither one, developing a distinctive style rooted in the increasingly important music of the Soviet Union in the middle 20th century. Weinberg fled the Nazi invasion in Poland, only to find mistrust from both the Soviet government and dissidents who considered him insufficiently confrontational. Like Shostakovich he was a pianist. His piano music dates mostly from the first phases of his output (a bout with tuberculosis sidelined his concert career), and four of the five works here were composed while he was still in Poland or in Minsk, where he resumed his studies after fleeing and saw his relatives die in concentration camps. They are not the best samples of Weinberg's mature style, but all are worthwhile. The Two Mazurkas, Op. 10, and Lullaby, Op. 1, were Weinberg's earliest works, written during his teenage years, with all kinds of unexpected youthful complications arising from simple tonal material. The Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 8, is a pure essay in Prokofiev's style; it was premiered by Emil Gilels. A bit more interesting is the slightly earlier Piano Sonata No. 1, Op. 5, with tough dissonances kept in check by contrapuntal passages. The mood, although not the specific language, recalls early Shostakovich. The final Piano Sonata, Op. 49bis, will also be of interest to Soviet music buffs. It had its origins in a work written during the repression of Stalin's culture czar Andrei Zhdanov, when composers retreated to a safe simplicity. But Weinberg returned to the work in the 1970s and expanded it, with intriguing results: it has the flavor of a reflection on those difficult days. American pianist Allison Brewster Franzetti has a basic feel for Russian music and a muscular style that projects these explosive youthful works well. This is the first in a projected series of Weinberg works from this performer, and it bodes well for the set.

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