Weinberg, Vol. 2: String Quartets Nos. 1, 7, and 11

Arcadia Quartet

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Weinberg, Vol. 2: String Quartets Nos. 1, 7, and 11 Review

by James Manheim

Various performers have worked hard to bring the music of composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg before the public, and the commercial success of this release, the second in a cycle of the composer's string quartets from the Arcadia Quartet, must be gratifying for the performers. The fact that the emotional contours of his works resemble those of Shostakovich's should be no surprise, for the two composers had many of the same experiences, including surviving World War II only to be subject to heavy-handed restrictions from Soviet cultural authorities. The genuinely tragic first movement and the beginning of the finale of Weinberg's String Quartet No. 7, Op. 59, match the intensity of any of Shostakovich's middle-period works, and the finale coalesces into a set of variations that embody a kind of grim defiance. The String Quartet No. 11, Op. 89, has a broader language that, as with Shostakovich, leaves room for sardonic undercurrents. However, Weinberg is no Shostakovich clone, for he takes routes to the ultimate ends that are different from those Shostakovich employed. Consider the finale of the Op. 89 quartet, with its little oscillating 16th-note figure that serves a host of structural purposes; this takes Shostakovich a step forward. Also of interest is the youthful String Quartet No. 1, Op. 2, which Weinberg continued to tinker with and republished late in life as Op. 141. It is written in a general 1920s post-Impressionist mode before, remarkably, Weinberg had any instruction in composition at all. The Arcadia Quartet's performances have the feel of a mission accomplished, and the group puts across the emotional content of these works in full spectrum. One awaits further releases in the series, but interested listeners might do well to start with this one. Chandos' Potton Hall sound is superb.

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