Mieczysław Weinberg: Sonatas for Violin Solo
Gidon Kremer violin
Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2
recorded December 2019
at Studio Residence Paliesius, Lithuania
Engineers: Vilius Keras and Aleksandra Kerienė
Sonata No. 3 recorded July 2013
at Lockenhaus Kammermusikfestival
Engineer: Peter Laenger
Cover photo: Max Franosch
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher
When Polish composer Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996) fled his homeland to escape the Nazis in the early stages of World War II, little could he have known the fate that would befall those left behind. It was Dmitri Shostakovich who eased his way into Russia, where the Stalinist regime would surely have killed him again had not the despotic leader died a month after Weinberg’s arrest for “Jewish bourgeois nationalism” in 1953. With more than a decade separating those events and his composing of the three solo violin sonatas recorded here, by which time his entire family had long perished in the concentration camps, there was yet room in his battered heart to amplify the need for humanity.
Violinist Gidon Kremer, who has championed Weinberg’s music on two previous discs with his Kremerata Baltica, offers the present program in reverse chronological order, starting with the Sonata No. 3, op. 126 (1979). Dedicated to his father and ostensibly taking form as a single movement, it is marked by borders that, like those in his life, were blessedly surmountable. It sharpens its blade of experience, forged in the fire of history, across stone-hard double stops before carving its way delicately through softer actions, snaking high lines, and bruised leitmotifs. Kremer navigates every chamber as if it belonged in his home, describing the furniture, curtain, and artwork hanging on the wall down to the last detail.
The concentrated sections of the Sonata No. 2, op. 95 (1967) take on descriptive titles. “Monody” digs up bare bones, while “Rests” shines a light on Weinberg’s brilliant personality. From “Intervals” to “Replies,” we see other sides of his visage—in the former, an angular nose; in the latter, a hair that refuses to stay combed. “Accompaniment” switches acrobatically from pizzicato to programmatic upswings as a magician might shuffle cards. “Invocation” cries for salvation, leaving only “Syncopes” to cut its jagged figure into the air with tactile dissonances.
Last is what came first: the Sonata No. 1, op. 82 (1964). There is a sad ebullience to its opening movement, characterized by alarming calls to action, which then turn on a dime into Bartókian flavors. The Andante is its dark side, churning as sediment in a river, slowed to the pace of a careful hunter. From there, the pointillism of a rotating Allegretto adds more stars to this sky, constellated by pliant bow work. After a multifaceted fourth movement, the final Presto recalls Bartók once again in its soil-scented urgency. Scratching motifs, strummed strings, and insistent harmonies pull each other in many directions, never straying from their handling. They know where they are going, even when everyone else around them is lost or falls behind.
As incredible as these pieces are, they are by no means “pleasant” to listen to. If anything, they listen to us, placing a stethoscope on our collective chest to amplify events we would rather ignore. If Bach’s solo violin works are of heavenly height, then Weinberg’s walk the valley of the shadow of death between them.