2012 has been the year I’ve really got to know this endlessly fascinating composer whose star is at last on the ascendant. I have discovered that, contrary to some assessments, Weinberg was no mere clone of his friend and mentor Shostakovich. Instead he stands as a true innovator and original musical thinker whose music was as much an influence on Shostakovich as vice versa. In common with his friend he incorporated folk themes into his compositions; not only Russian but also Polish and Moldavian, drawing on his own and his family’s origins, and, of course Jewish. It was in his use of Jewish themes that his musical personality becomes particularly distinctive. That aspect had a marked effect on Shostakovich and is the main explanation for his use of such themes in many of his compositions. The special feature emerging from these influences is a profoundly affecting mixture of jollity, nostalgia, sadness, regret and resignation.
In an earlier review of a disc of Weinberg’s piano music I wrote that I would not try to dissect the music which in any event is difficult for a non pianist but I feel compelled to make an attempt on this occasion. First up is his Fourth Piano Sonata
which has an interesting opening that sounds as if it’s in the middle of a phrase. This sonata was written in 1955 and was dedicated to Emil Gilels who gave the first performance on 19 February 1957. One can appreciate why people thought of Shostakovich’s influence over the younger Weinberg as there is much about the writing that does remind one of him. There’s a ‘modern’ feel to the writing and that appealing use of dissonance that was a feature of composition at the time. Though it has a melancholic beginning it soon becomes less so as it progresses and eventually comes to a thrilling climax. The second short movement has a really memorable little tune that is stated and then improvised on; the speed is fast and exciting. The third, slow movement brings back a feeling of melancholia with a dark and brooding nature in charge throughout. Allison Brewster Franzetti
whose disc I reviewed some months ago takes this movement at a faster pace finishing almost two minutes quicker but the longer time Murray McLachlan takes does the movement gretaer justice in emphasising the sad nature more effectively. The finale brings Weinberg’s use of Russian folk melodies into play while reintroducing some of the earlier themes. While there is also a touch of sadness here the overall mood is lighter in character and the resolution is achieved with an enveloping aura of peace.
Weinberg’s Piano sonata no.5
begins with what Per Skans, who wrote the booklet notes, says is almost unique in all piano literature, a passacaglia that lasts all of 603 bars. It is certainly serious in nature with some beautifully dense writing and a relentless drive towards its conclusion. The andante
is the longest movement of this sonata and of all three on the disc. It is exceptionally slow throughout its length and ends suddenly. The finale marked allegretto
is a rondo that alternates between fast and slow paces and concludes with a pianistic whisper. The final sonata Weinberg wrote, his Sixth
, is uncharacteristically short with only two movements and lasts twelve and a half minutes. The first and second sections of the opening movement are so distinctively different that one can be forgiven for thinking they are separate movements. The movement dies away which seems a favourite feature of Weinberg. The second movement which is fugue-like embodies more folk-inspired melodies and gathers momentum from its slow beginning to a powerfully stated climax. This serves as a fitting conclusion to his cycle of piano sonatas.
This disc is another great addition to the increasing discography of this wonderful composer. His originality shines through at every turn. Murray McLachlan is a great exponent of 20th
century and contemporary piano compositions. He has many first performances to his credit. This disc is further proof of his intelligent approach. It does wonderful service to the composer’s intentions. This is a disc to savour.