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Mieczysław WEINBERG (1919-1996)
24 Preludes for solo cello, Op.100 (1969, transcr. solo violin by Gidon Kremer) [47:21]
Gidon Kremer (violin)
rec. 2017, Paliesiaus Dvaras, Lithuania

Weinberg’s Preludes, Op.100 were composed in 1969 for Rostropovich but the cellist never performed them. It wasn’t until 1995 that they were finally premiered by Latvian cellist Yosif Feigelson. It was Gidon Kremer’s growing familiarity with the composer’s music – which seems to have begun with the Tenth Symphony – that led him recently to make this arrangement of the Preludes for solo violin. Like others Kremer, who saw Weinberg perform as a pianist, remains puzzled as to why Rostropovich never performed the set – there may have been a breach of some kind - but recasting the works for violin, with only very few requirements for a different tonality will serve to widen appreciation of works that have been overlooked, but for Feigelson, whose admirable recording of the set on Naxos is easily available.

The Preludes possess powerful connective elements, as they pass through the scale, but the one obvious linking element between them is that each prelude’s final note forms the first note of the following prelude. This may seem a somewhat tenuous device, a kind of musical La Ronde, but it is only one of a series of interrelations. Something else Weinberg does is to encode works familiar from Rostropovich’s performance of them – Boris Tchaikovsky’s Concerto, for instance, or Shostakovich’s Op.129 or one of Rostropovich’s warhorses, the Schumann Concerto. These quotations clearly take on a quasi-biographical element when one thinks that the work was meant for the great cellist. It can’t help but dissipate this sense of self-identification when the work is played by another cellist or, as here, in violin arrangement, where the quotations are necessarily diffused.

The 24 Preludes are however profoundly expressive, with internal dialogues and intensely melancholy, meditative paragraphs. In this violin arrangement one might also think of Bartók or Ysa˙e - try the Sixth Prelude as a kind of analogue to them both – whilst there is definably a fast, fluid and folkloric element to a few of the Preludes as well. The cycle’s vivid intensity is exemplified by the introversion of the twelfth prelude with its wandering tonality but there are also structurally clever points too, such as the strategically delayed introduction of pizzicati, a device that lesser composers would have deployed much earlier than Weinberg and with greater glee.

It’s in the fragmentary nature of the writing, its provisional, hesitant nature (No.15) as well as tough bursts of rapid bowing (No.16) that the cycle’s breadth can felt; so too in the Sarabande-like lilt of No.18 or in the funereal elements of No.20 or the resinous dance imperatives to be found elsewhere. To call the Preludes cyclopaedic would however be wrong; it inhabits a more circumscribed sphere of reference and self-reference. To these elements Kremer brings stylistic awareness, technical assurance (and these are exceptionally demanding works) as well as resinous tonal production, set in a slightly resonant acoustic.

The booklet notes are in German and English and feature Kremer’s own recollections and thoughts. Even though I think the quotations make more ‘sense’ in the cello original, and thus Feigelson’s recording is clearly the central recommendation, Kremer’s violin arrangement represents a formidable commitment to perpetuating this repertoire for his own instrument.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Colin Clarke

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