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Weinberg: Piano Quintet, Sonatine, Cello Sonata / Jeanne Golan, Attacca Quartet

Release Date: 04/20/2018
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30072
Composer:  Mieczyslaw Weinberg Performer:  Jeanne Golan ,  Andrew Yee Orchestra/Ensemble:  Attacca Quartet

Weinberg's works are strong, beautifully crafted and grippingly original. They equally embrace influences that range from Jewish cantorial music and Yiddish Theatre to his abiding and deep mutual friendship with Dmitri Shostakovich at the vanguard of Russian Modernism.

Album Credits:
Recorded June 13–15, 2017 at Steinway Hall, New York City.
Producers: Christopher Oldfather & Jeanne Golan
Engineer: Lauren Sturm
Editing, Mixing and Mastering: Daniel Shores

Executive Producers: Eric Feidner, Jon Feidner
Art Direction: Jackie Fugere
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda Carrasquillo
Piano Technician: Lauren Sturm
Pianos: Steinway Model D #597590
Read more (New York)

The music of Polish-Russian-Jewish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg, hardly known a generation ago, has been dispersed by the efforts of the Naxos label to record neglected 20th century symphonies and Russian expat conductors. His chamber music, however, remains a rare find, and what a find it is. Weinberg lost his family to the depredations of the Nazis in Poland, and ended up on the bad side of Soviet authorities as well despite the support of Shostakovich, who influenced his music. The Piano Quintet, Op. 18 (1944), one of the first works he wrote in the Soviet Union, has the deadly serious tone of Shostakovich's chamber music during World War II, and it's altogether remarkable, a chaotic statement from the midst of wartime as powerful in its way as the Shostakovich Symphony No. 7. The Attacca Quartet from the U.S., not a country known for great Shostakovich performances, is up to the work's considerable emotional (not to mention technical) challenges. Sample the second of its five movements, with the sardonic effect created by the long passages pairing the piano with pizzicato strings. The integration of the piano and the string quartet is masterly throughout. Both this work and the Sonata No. 2 for cello and piano, Op. 63 (played here by Attacca Quartet cellist Andrew Yee and the pianist from the quartet, Jeanne Golan), are cyclical in form and add deep resonances to that device. The Sonatine for piano, Op. 49, is something else again, a counterpoint to Shostakovich's piano preludes. Although the presence of Shostakovich looms large, there is always something distinctive to Weinberg himself in the music here, and if you've been avoiding Weinberg on the suspicion that he may be derivative, this is a good place to start. Excellent and idiomatic sound from Steinway Hall in New York is another attraction.

-- AllMusic Guide

Remarkably, recorded versions of Weinberg’s Piano Quintet are now up around double figures. Maybe not so remarkably, because this is one of his top-drawer pieces and a gift to ensembles looking to expand on the not so many concert-worthy 20th-century examples of its genre. Jeanne Golan and the young members of the Attacca Quartet offer one of the most spacious accounts, at over 47 minutes, and I can see where they are aiming. Just because the composer himself and almost all others place the emphasis on drive and drama does not mean that there is no scope for taking more time to stop and admire the view. Introducing so much detailed phrasing and shaping into the rhetorical slow movement certainly gives evidence of much thought and preparation...

...the sound picture brightens up considerably for the Sonatine, in which Golan’s silvery touch teases out the subcutaneous strands of klezmer in the first movement and finds an effectively capricious solution to the problem of the oddly truncated finale. The Cello Sonata moves persuasively from searching to trenchancy, earning a place of merit not far behind Chaushian and Sudbin or Weinberg and Alla Vassilieva (Rostropovich’s first pupil and later his assistant at the Moscow Conservatory).

-- Gramophone

When it comes to discovering composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996), it seems that each new release reveals more and more of his musical personality. That is certainly so with a new program of his chamber works, Piano Quintet, Cello Sonata No. 2, Piano Sonatine (Steinway & Sons 30072).

The three works cover something of the early years of his Russian exile from his native Poland and drop into his musical mind in several succeeding years, 1944, 1951, 1958.

The "Piano Quintet, Op. 18" (1944) has a molto expressivo demeanor that contrasts vividly in each movement, from the strangely hushed opening movement with its mysterious theme stated in the piano in octaves, we find ourselves in a sort of sarcastic waltz environment and then on in the final movement to an almost brutal thematic tattoo that quickly gives way to a complicated ethnically bursting forward dance motif and even an illusion to my ears to a boogie woogie pattern. It is characteristic of the very unexpected charms of the music's unfolding.

These were turbulent times for Weinberg and the music reflects anxiety, restlessness and onward momentum in ways very Modern and idiomatically Weinbergian. It is characteristic of Weinberg's Modernism that he not allow his opening theme to show much in repetition but instead to flow through without an obvious resting point. That never-resting quality in a way models the manic ever-active state of the modern megalopolis, or we certainly can experience it that way now even if he might have intended something else when he wrote it.

On the other hand the Piano Sonatine (1951) has a deceptive lightness that in paradoxical Weinbergian fashion turns out to be not "easy" but somewhat recalcitrant? It contrasts well with the Quintet and reminds us that Weinberg was not monolithic in any sense.

Finally the 1958 Cello Sonata No. 2 seems very much in line with the Russian Modernism in the air via Weinberg's friend and mentor Shostakovich yet also shows a subtle Jewish element and an additional Weinbergian element that sets it apart. The symbiotic relationship of Weinberg and Shostakovich was not necessarily all in the direction of the latter to the former, as we can read of in some of Shostakovich's later statements on the relationship.

As far as the performing artists involved, pianist Jeanne Golan sounds poised and committed as does the Attacca Quartet and cellist Andrew Vee. The scores call for a thorough grasp of Weinberg's highly individual window on music. Happily all five do very much get it and get into it.

For all these reasons this is a most attractive volume that will by its content open up new territory for anyone interested in Weinberg's overall opus. It also could serve as a perfectly revealing introduction to the composer. So I do not hesitate to recommend.

-- Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review

It is most heartening how the music of Mieczyslaw Weinberg (sometimes spelled, and pronounced, Vainberg) has become more and more standard repertoire in the past dozen or so years. Starting from a point of being virtually unknown in the West, he has become one of the most revered composers of his era, and although he may not yet be on everyone’s radar as a standard repertoire artist, he has clearly made significant inroads in that direction.

This new release by members of the Attacca Quartet struck my ears as a bit unusual. They play the great Piano Quintet with tremendous emotional energy and style, but use such a fast, light vibrato that it resembles straight tone. This works in the music’s favor in the more agitated moments of the score, but in the more lyrical moments the string quartet sound is thin and a bit harsh. Only Andrew Yee’s cello imparts any real warmth to the sound. Of course, they are not alone in this sort of approach; ever since the Alban Berg Quartet pioneered this modern string quartet sound in the 1970s, it has become something of a favored approach by many string quartets over the past decades. The violins in particular sounded particularly thin to my ears. This cannot be attributed to the recorded sound, which is quite natural.

Once past this oddity of sound quality, however, this is clearly a gripping performance of the work. The quartet, and pianist Jeanne Golan, attack the music with almost ferocious energy, which keeps one’s rapt attention. Not a note or phrase goes by without an almost palpable connection to the spirit of the work, which is clearly one of Weinberg’s masterpieces. The extreme mood swings of the piece—a typical Weinberg device—give the music a feeling of an interior conversation that the composer was having with himself while writing it.

By contrast, the piano Sonatine is almost jolly, particularly in the first movement, and Jeanne Golan plays it extremely well. She has a nice feel for the contours and structure of the music, giving a lovely performance with a light touch. In the second movement “Adagietto,” Weinberg becomes introspective, almost moody, and Golan captures this well.

The Cello Sonata No. 2, featuring both Yee and Golan, is predictably superb. The cellist’s rich, warm tone and passionate playing is matched by Golan’s alternately energetic and heartfelt pianism. Once again, Weinberg becomes very intimate in his feelings, and thus very introspective, in the work’s slow movement, and in the finale (“Allegro”) he somehow manages to maintain this feeling of intimacy despite the quicker tempo, using folk-like rhythms to propel his quirky themes which always seem to be tonal yet modal at the same time.

Despite my reservations about the violinists’ tone, this is clearly an outstanding release, recommended for all of the performances but especially the Cello Sonata.

-- The Art Music Lounge
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