Kalnits & Csányi-Wills Play Weinberg


WEINBERG: Concertino in A min. 2 Songs Without Words. 3 Pieces for Violin & Piano. Sonata Movement (1944). Sonata for 2 Violins* / Yuri Kalnits *& Igor Yuzefovich, vln; Michael Csányi-Wills, pno / Toccata Classics TOCC 0188

This is Vol. 4 in a series of albums presenting Weinberg’s complete works for violin and piano. Although I reviewed the first disc in this series, Toccata Classics 0026 which contained the Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes, the solo violin sonatas Nos. 1 & 2 and the Violin-Piano Sonata No. 2, I passed on the other discs containing the other violin-piano sonatas because I already had excellent recordings of them by violinist Grigory Kalinovsky and pianist Tatiana Goncharova on Naxos and, to be honest, I much preferred their more rhythmic and dynamic performances to the slower, more legato readings of Kalnits and Csányi-Wills.

I did opt to review this CD, however, because it includes pieces I do not have: the Concertino in A minor, 2 Songs Without Words, the very early 3 Pieces for Violin & Piano from 1934-35 and the stand-alone Sonata Movement from 1944. (I have the two-violin sonata in an excellent recording by Gidon Kremer, one of Weinberg’s very few champions in the world, and Madara Petersone on Accentus Music.)

In reviewing this recording, then, the reader should assume that there may be future recordings of these pieces not currently available elsewhere that, like the Kalinovsky and Kremer recordings, may present the music in a more emotional and dramatic light. The 1948 Concertino is just one instance. Although Weinberg did indeed write music that was “lyrical,” it was in his own unusual, intense style. Here, Kalnits and Csányi-Wills play it as if it were a sonata by Rachmaninov, which is not really the right approach, but since it is the only one we have at present, at least we can appreciate the score played by musicians at least somewhat engaged in the presentation of the music.

This Concertino could easily have its piano part transcribed for orchestra, as it is relatively simple, consisting of a rocking motion in the first movement and not terribly challenging for the accompanist. At this stage of his career, Weinberg was more regularly rhythmic and somewhat more conventionally melodic in his writing. In 1948 in particular, he was influenced by his close friend Shostakovich. Of course, this somewhat more conventional form may also have been dictated by the demands of the Soviet Culture Bureau, which came down hard not only on Weinberg (Stalin even had his father-in-law murdered to bring him in line!) but also on Shostakovich and Prokofiev, all of whom wrote alternate forms of certain movements of their works, entrusting them to close allies among performers (young Rostropovich and Richter were two such) to play their original concepts once Stalin was dead (which they did). Thus I can’t altogether blame Kalnits for the Romantic profile of the music, though I do believe that his over-sugary approach to playing, with its occasionally throbbing vibrato and constant feeling of bathos, makes it even more Romantic than it needs to be. Only in the last movement did I feel that he came close to the proper Weinbergian style.

The early pieces for violin & piano are interesting in that they have an almost Middle Eastern sound to the harmony, or at least, one might say, Middle Eastern harmony tempered by the modern French school of that time. The central “Scherzo” is particularly interesting in this respect, with a harmonic base that always sounds as if it is heading towards resolution but never quite arrives there. This piece is played quite well by Kalnits and Csányi-Wills. The third piece, “Dream About a Doll,” does resolve its harmony at times but somehow manages to maintain a strange sort of hallucinatory feeling about it. The doll being dreamed about must surely have had a demon hidden in it! In this piece, the piano part is especially important as it helps convey this mood as well with writing that includes independent themes of its own, sometimes overcoming the violin to impose its will for a few moments. Both instruments rise to an almost frightening and very intense climax in the middle. In its own way, this is the one piece on this album that I felt pointed more clearly towards Weinberg’s mature style, which had its differences in form but not in the strangeness of its emotional projection. This is clearly the highlight of the entire album.

Although the stand-alone sonata movement of 1944 is also somewhat Romantic in feeling, it, too has an uncomfortable emotional undercurrent that is hard to define. Unease? A premonition of something bad that will happen? Anxiety waiting for someone to arrive who is part due? Pick your own and apply it to this music, because whatever it is, it’s in there.  The sonata for two violins is played pretty well, and here both Kalnits and his partner, Igor Yuzefovich, give the music a proper Russian edge.

If you like your classical music consistently sweet and pleasant-sounding, not only this disc but also the complete violin sonatas played by Kalnits and Csányi-Wills are for you. Otherwise, this one is currently indispensable for Weinberg collectors, but keep your eyes out for versions by Kalinovsky or Kremer.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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