Kremer Plays Weinberg’s Preludes

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WEINBERG: 24 Preludes for Solo Cello (arr. Kremer for violin) / Gidon Kremer, vln / Accentus ACC 30476

In this, Mieczysław Weinberg’s centenary year, neither his home country of Poland nor his adopted country of Russia is planning any celebratory concerts, but Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer, who adores this composer, is doing everything he can to promote his music, including several concerts in England. I’m not entirely sure why he chose to record a violin transcription of Weinberg’s solo cello preludes rather than the sonatas for solo violin, but since I didn’t have these works in their original configuration I was happy to hear them.

Although I admire Kremer’s energy and musicianship, I’ve never been a big fan of his edgy, occasionally wiry tone, and that is in evidence here, but I’ll take what I can get. His edginess is immediately evident in the first prelude, which makes some dramatic leaps upward into the stratosphere, but the music itself is fascinating as usual for Weinberg. Indeed, as one goes through the preludes, one notes that the composer was in one of his more neo-classical moods (he had several different styles depending on the work in question), producing music that is essentially tonal (or at least modal) yet which constantly shifts its tonal center from phrase to phrase. It’s one of the many reasons why I admire him; he was always unpredictable but also always interesting and original in his thinking.

Being written for a solo string instrument, these works are generally more lyric than usual, occasionally with broad themes making their appearance only to be morphed and developed in arresting ways. Indeed, the juxtaposition of themes which continues throughout the cycle—some of the pieces being roughly one minute long—makes for some very intense and involved listening, and Weinberg was clever enough to vary his style even within this series, i.e. the eighth prelude which is highly rhythmic with good forward movement, avoiding any dramatic leaps which make their reappearance in the ninth.

This musical balancing act continues throughout the cycle, and although I know it was originally written for the cello I had a hard time imagining it played on that instrument (mostly due to the extraordinary high leaps into the stratosphere throughout) after hearing Kremer’s performance on the violin. Perhaps this is also a credit to his incredible musicianship which, as I say, I’ve always admired even when the tone is edgy. And of course I applaud him for the hard work he is doing, some at his own expense, to promote and celebrate this great composer in his centenary year.

Splendid pieces, brilliantly performed. If you are a Weinberg aficionado, this is a must.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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