Yuri Kalnits / Michael Csányi-Wills

Mieczyslaw Weinberg: Complete Violin Sonatas, Vol. 1

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Soviet-Polish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg (also known as Moisey or Moises Weinberg, but he preferred the Polish form) has received increased attention as the stature of his associate and friend Dmitry Shostakovich has grown. Weinberg is not a clone of Shostakovich, and there was a mutual influence between the two. Indeed, the early Violin Sonata No. 1 of Weinberg, composed in 1943 after Weinberg had fled his native Warsaw first to Minsk and then to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, has what you might call a typical Shostakovich structure of feeling before Shostakovich himself came up with such a thing. It's an imperfect early work, with repetitive passages, but the sequence of two melancholy opening movements followed by a grimly resolute finale in folk rhythms cannot help but bring Shostakovich to mind. The other two violin-and-piano works on this British release also reflect the conditions under which Soviet composers worked; the Sonatina (tracks 11-13) consciously reflects the demands for lyrical simplicity imposed by Stalinist cultural commissars, whom the Jewish Weinberg had even more reason than Shostakovich to fear. It marks perhaps a subtler adaptation than Shostakovich's manifestations of bitter bombast, with a free structure suggesting introspection in the second of its two movements. The Sonata No. 1 for solo violin, Op. 82, is something else again, a brutally difficult technical tour de force with all of the violin's resources, including quadruple stops, deployed in the service of a unique, unrelenting quality. It's not exactly a pleasant work, but like everything else on the album it holds your attention. Russo-British violinist Yuri Kalnits handles the challenges of this work with ease and genuinely seems to enjoy Weinberg's music. There are probably other places to go for those just starting with Weinberg's music (Chandos' series containing his orchestral works would be one), but this album is recommended for those doing further exploring.

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