Quatuor Danel

Mieczyslaw Weinberg: String Quartets, Vol. 4

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This release is the fourth in a series devoted to the complete string quartets of Mieczyslaw Weinberg, a Polish-born Jew who fled the Nazis in 1939. He landed in Minsk, then in Tashkent, then finally in Moscow, where he found himself in danger once again from the aging Stalin's anti-Jewish purges. His life was probably saved by an appeal from Shostakovich, who had become his mentor. Weinberg is usually classed as a follower of Shostakovich, and his music was until recently little heard in the West; it has now been championed by the Quatuor Danel, a Russian group resident in Britain. Annotator David Fanning (the notes are given in German, English, and French) makes a good case that the influence, in the realm of the string quartet at least, went from Weinberg to Shostakovich rather than the other way around, and Shostakovich's attitude toward Weinberg seems to have been one of genuine admiration. At any rate, as the music of Eastern Europe and Russia is recognized for its engagement with the currents of world history rather than suffering devaluation from self-serving modernism, Weinberg deserves another look. These quartets do inhabit the same stylistic universe as those of Shostakovich, but Weinberg was no clone. The most immediately attractive work is the String Quartet No. 5 in B flat major, Op. 27, composed in 1945. By that time Shostakovich had already begun to back off from his edgily humorous early idiom, but Weinberg apparently absorbed it during his first years in the Soviet Union; at the center of the work lies a blistering scherzo that could have come out of one of Shostakovich's stage works of the 1920s. The outer movements are melodic and a bit less dissonant than those of Shostakovich. The String Quartet No. 9 in F sharp minor, Op. 80, is from 1963, with structures that resemble the tight sonata forms of Shostakovich's works of the period. The final String Quartet No. 14, Op. 122, was written after Shostakovich's death. It lacks a key designation and has only metronome markings for tempo indications. It's a gloomy work, tightly constructed, with the dark tone of late Shostakovich much in evidence; one might do better with the range of emotions and literary reference in the works of the master himself here, but there's a lot to chew on in this late quartet. With enthusiastic and plainly lovingly rehearsed performances from the Quatuor Danel and fine sound from Cologne's Studio Stolbergerstraßse, this can be recommended to anyone who likes Shostakovich's quartets or is interested in the general Russian scene.

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