Moisey Vaynberg [Mieczyslaw Weinberg]: Cello Sonatas

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M. WEINBERG Cello Sonatas: No. 1 in C; No. 2 in g. Solo Cello Sonata No. 1 in C Alexander Chaushian (vc); Yevgeny Sudbin (pn) BIS 1648 (55:45)

After a decade’s hiatus—the British label Olympia embarked on a project back in the 1990s to record anew and/or remaster from earlier Melodiya LPs much of the composer’s output—there seems to be a resurgence of interest in the music of Polish-born Mieczys?aw Weinberg, (aka Moisey Samuilovich Vaynberg) 1919–1996. That this interest now extends to a mainstream label such as BIS is encouraging, for Weinberg is considered by many to be the most important Soviet era composer to follow in the musical footsteps of Shostakovich. Though Weinberg never formally studied with him, the elder Shostakovich befriended the young man, encouraged him to move to Moscow in 1943 after the Jewish Weinberg had lost almost his entire family in the Holocaust, and interceded on his behalf when Weinberg was arrested and detained as part of Stalin’s anti-Semitic dragnets.

Despite the friendship that bonded the two men, Weinberg’s music nods respectfully at Shostakovich’s, but does not unconditionally embrace it. His catalog of works is extensive—22 symphonies, 17 string quartets, large quantities of chamber works for various combinations of instruments, solo piano pieces, and seven operas. With due gratitude to Olympia for its efforts on Weinberg’s behalf, the label’s titles seem to have disappeared from the current listings; thus, this major composer’s works are ripe for new recordings. Chandos, for one, appears to have heeded the call with new recordings of the symphonies.

Even though the connections are at times tenuous, I can say that if you appreciate Shostakovich you will respond positively to Weinberg. Not all assessments of Weinberg’s music though, have been positive. Cellist Alexander Ivashkin, for whom Schnittke wrote a number of works, has been most critical, arguing that composers such as Weinberg damaged not only their own reputations, but also that of Shostakovich himself, stating that “these works only served to kill off Shostakovich’s music, to cover it over with a scab of numerous and bad copies.”

I disagree. Clearly, the life experiences of both composers led them to dark and devastating places in their music, and often to programmatic content of mindless violence and the terrible human suffering it produced. But where Shostakovich mocks and satirizes the ugliness and deformities by painting them with a twisted, defaced mask of cheap, tawdry face-rouge, Weinberg seems to have less of a taste for the sarcastic and the sardonic. Lyudmilla Nikitina in Grove finds influences in Weinberg’s music of Bartók, Myaskovsky, Prokofiev, and even Mahler, and emphasizes the “neo-classical, rationalist clarity and proportion of his works.” Then too, ethnic influences of Jewish, Polish, Armenian, Moldavian, and klezmer music are also part of the picture.

The recording of Cello Sonata No. 1 appears to be, at this time, the only one available of this work. Happily, it’s a superb one. [The other two can be found separately on Hanssler and Albany.] Cellist Alexander Chaushian distinguishes himself in all three, but really shines in the technically daunting solo sonata, a work that manages to satisfy and reward as both a virtuosic display piece and a profoundly moving piece of music. Pianist Yevgeny Sudbin has been making a splash of late with his recent recordings of Scriabin, Medtner, and Tchaikovsky. It’s easy to hear why from his playing here. He has fingers of steel guided by the caressing touch of an angel.

An outstanding release and a must-add to your collection. Incidentally, due to the number of disparate transliterations and spellings of Weinberg’s name, you will find him listed at as Moisey Samuil Vaynberg. It would be helpful if record producers and annotators came up with a consensus spelling.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: BIS-CD-1648

  • UPC: 7318590016480

  • Label: BIS

  • Composer: Mieczyslaw Weinberg

  • Performer: Alexander Chaushian, Yevgeny Sudbin