A Transcription of Weinberg’s Piano Quintet

cover C5366

WEINBERG: Piano Quintet (orch. by Mathias Baier). Children’s Notebook / Elisaveta Blumina, pno; Ruben Gazarian, cond; Georgian Chamber Orch., Ingolstadt / Capriccio C5366

Well, I guess you’ve really “arrived” as a major composer when other  people start making orchestral arrangements of your solo and chamber works. In this instance, it’s an orchestration of Mieczysław Weinberg’s Piano Quintet by one Mathias Baier. Of course, this work sounds just fine as a quintet, and all Baier really did was to expand the string quartet writing for a body of strings—no brass or winds—which effectively turned it into a sort of piano concerto. What really makes it work is the exceptional playing of pianist Elisaveta Blumina, whose work I have found to be quite good in other recordings, although the passionate playing of the Georgian Chamber Orchestra’s strings under the inspired conducting of Ruben Gazarian also helps a great deal.

The music is typically Weinbergian: essentially tonal with excursions into neighboring tonalities and occasional bitonal touches, melodic in a quirky sort of way with the music, as always, leaning towards melancholy and brooding. I suppose that one reason why his music has found a wider audience nowadays is due to Covid-19. People are feeling, at the very least, subliminally stressed, and Weinberg’s music certainly speaks to that sort of restlessness.

Blumina’s playing goes beneath the surface of the notes to present us with a unified view of the music. It may not be the most sensitive version of the piano part, but it does bring out the music’s structure better than most. I particularly admired her firm touch in the almost hectic second-movement “Allegretto,” where both she and the strings push the music forward with an almost manic feeling. In his orchestration, Baier retains the violin and viola solos from the original quintet configuration. Perhaps this arrangement is most effective in the fourth movement, which includes an exceptionally long piano solo before the body of strings returns, playing very slowly but with tremendous angst. In the last movement, Weinberg creates a wild, bitonal 6/8 atmosphere that includes what sounds like a crazy Irish jig.

The orchestrated quintet is then followed by Weinberg’s Children’s Notebook, one of the simplest and most artless series of pieces he ever wrote. Some of this music is beyond the playing level of a child, and I would think that much of it is beyond most children’s harmonic understanding, but the music is charming anyway. Blumina plays these works with a deft touch, a bit more objectively than subjectively, but considering the character of the music they’re still good performances.

A very interesting album, then, particularly recommended for fans of the composer.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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