Born in Warsaw, but ultimately settling in Moscow in 1943, Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919 -- 1996) (sometimes "Vainberg") enjoyed a long prolific career as a Soviet composer and was the friend of both Shostakovitch and Rostropovich. The influence of both these friends is apparent in this CD of Weinberg's music for cello and piano and for solo cello performed by cellist Dmitri Yablonski and pianist Hsin-Ni Liu. Yablonski is well-known and has recorded extensively as a solo cellist and as a conductor. Ms Liu was born in Taiwan and has studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music, Juilliard, and Mannes College. She has concertized widely and shows a virtuoso technique in this CD which was recorded in 2007 and 2008 in Moscow. Anthony Short wrote the liner notes. I did not find them helpful in understanding the music.
The CD consists of Weinberg's two sonatas for cello and piano and two of his four sonatas for solo cello. Weinberg's music captures the passionate, wailing character of the cello. The music is tonal throughout but tough and dissonant, particularly in the two cello-piano works. The music is intense, but for me sometimes lapses into diffuseness. The works range in date of composition from 1945, shortly after Weinberg had settled in Moscow, to 1971.
The earliest work on the program is the two-movement cello sonata no. 1, op. 21, composed in 1945. The opening movement, marked Lento ma non troppo, opens with a long, plaintive cello solo, which is followed by a piano solo of a harmonically and melodically different character. As the two instruments play together, so do the two competing themes, as the music rises to a climactic passage for both instruments before the movement quietly closes. The second movement, un poco moderato, features large, dissonant music for both instruments before a lengthy cadenza for solo cello, the climax of the movement. Both instruments join together in the final quiet pages of the score, with a pizzicato cello accompaniment to the piano's theme.
Written for Rostropovich, the three-movement cello sonata no. 2, op 63 (1959) was a showpiece for the great Russian cellist. The opening two movements, marked moderato and andante, are each melancholy and lyrical, with the first movement characterized by a wandering, march-like theme for the cello. The second movement, also plaintive in character, gives the cello the opportunity to display its many registers and types of sound. The sonat concludes with a virtuosic, fast-paced allegro which is contrapuntal in character. Ms Liu gives character to the crashing chords in the piano, while the cello part is marked by high repeated harmonics. The work comes to a loud, climactic conclusion and an abrubt close.
The solo cello sonatas on this CD were both also composed for Rostropovich who valued them highly. The solo cello sonata no. 1, op. 72, is a compact, three movement work of only about 12 minutes. The opening adagio begins in the cello's lower register and becomes a searing theme as it rises in pitch and as the note values become faster. The movement falls back to the lower register suddenly before coming it concludes. The brief allegretto which follows offers a contrastingly light moment with a scherzo-like skipping theme. The sonata concludes with a short, severe allegro which opens in double stops. A short, quick theme alternates with pizzicato passages.
The most successful piece on this CD is Weinberg's solo cello sonata no, 3, op. 106, a large-scale four movement work. The sonata's opening movement is lengthy, with writing for the cello that is melancholy, stark, and solitary. As the movement goes forward it grows in intensity with much use of passionate passages in double stops. The brief allegretto which follows has a contrapuntal character, similar to that of Bach's suites for solo cello. The work's climactic moment is in the third movement, a lento with is slow and reinforces the lonely, sad character of the opening movement. The cello writing is pleading in its upper register and deep and mellow in its lower register as the movement comes to a close on an open note on the cello's lowest string. The sonata concludes with a lively presto in which a rhythmic theme, characterized by sharp pauses, is contrasted with a long, flowing theme. A long high tremolo passage brings a dramatic conclusion to an excellent modern work for cello solo.
Naxos is in the process of releasing two CDs of Weinberg's complete cello music by two different artists which, unfortunately, will compete with this CD. For listeners who love the cello or 20th Century Russian music, this CD remains an excellent choice.
Total Time: 72:01