WEINBERG: Violin Concerto.* 2-Violin Sonata+ / Gidon Kremer, +Madara Pĕtersone, vln; *Gewandhaus Orchester Leipzig, Daniele Gatti, cond / Accentus Music ACC30518-2 (*live: Leipzig, February 2020)
To me, Gidon Kremer is the modern-day Joseph Szigeti, an interesting and intense interpreter with a rather wiry Eastern European sound. (Bronislaw Huberman also had some of this sound in his playing, but mitigated it with some exquisitely sweet playing as well). One thing I must commend him for, however, is his unwavering dedication to the music of Mieczysław Weinberg. He was the only big-name artist to organize concerts of Weinberg’s music in Europe and England, and it is to the great discredit of such British musicians as Steven Isserlis, who I generally admire, for not participating in any of them…but Isserlis was scarcely alone. Aside from Kremer’s performances and a few recordings, only Polish musicians really dedicated themselves to promoting the music of this great and highly individual composer.
There are a few other recordings of the Violin Concerto available, by such artists as Benjamin Schmid (Capriccio), Ilya Grubert (Naxos) and Linus Roth (Challenge Classics). All are pretty good readings of the score, but until now my favorite performance was the one by Leonid Kogan with Kiril Kondrashin and the Moscow Philharmonic. Ironically, Kogan had a richer, somewhat warmer tone than Kremer, but both played the piece with great intensity. This live performance with the Gewandhaus Orchestra under the excellent leadership of Daniele Gatti took place just before the Coronavirus pandemic shut everything down, in February of 2020, and the engineer (alas, I don’t have a booklet so I can’t report his or her name) did a superb job of capturing the sound as well as if it were a well-balanced studio recording.
I was particularly impressed by both violinist and conductor in the slow second and third movements. Gatti manages to nudge the tempo forward without making it sound pressed, and Kremer plays with a wistful, almost melancholy feeling that perfectly suits the mood of the music. Conversely, the almost violent fourth and last movement is played with the force of hammer blows.
If the Violin Concerto is a fairly known piece, however, the two-violin sonata is not. I could find no other commercial recording of this work. The first movement, with its aggressive ostinato rhythm in the first part, almost sounds like a modern version of something J.S. Bach might have written, only filtered through Weinberg’s mind, but suddenly, the tempo pulls back to a moderato in the middle section. Interestingly, Weinberg almost scores this like a violin concerto; at times, the second violin is playing rhythmic figures behind the first that sound like something an orchestra would do behind a soloist in a concerto. At least, that’s how it struck me. The music is almost consistently atonal or modal, rarely landing on a chord that sounds temperate to the average listener and the lines played by the two fiddlers is for the most part angular and almost abrasive.
The second movement is a typically moody exercise for Weinberg, but even here I detected the second violinist playing sustained chords much of the time behind the first, again as in the case of a concerto. At the 1:37 mark, Weinberg suddenly shifts gears to produce a rather tonal and haunting slow waltz melody played by one of the violins while the second provides pizzicato accompaniment before suddenly switching over for a few bars to play a counter-melody. In the third movement, one violin plays the quirky bitonal melody while the other plays a series of eighth-note figures around it—again, as if it was an orchestra accompanying the violin “soloist.” It’s a very interesting effect, however, and in toto I found this sonata a very interesting piece.
An excellent entry in the ongoing Weinberg catalog, then. Highly recommended.
—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley
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