Wednesday 28 August 2013

Review: Complete Sonatas for Viola Solo - Julia Rebekka Adler and Jascha Nemtsov

In short, this release is a delight for all listeners, whether new to Weinberg, or specialists. 

Having borrowed a copy of this excellent two-CD set several years ago, I was delighted to have a chance at a more thorough listen. Adler's virtuosity and commitment to the repertoire shine throughout, backed by Jascha Nemtsov on piano for two opening works which serve as a prelude for the body of the album, Weinberg's four solo Viola Sonatas.

The choice of programming couldn't be better. Weinberg wrote a large body of works for solo string instruments, including the largest opus for solo cello by a single composer. In this collection, in addition to the Viola Sonatas (the latter three of which are here recorded for the first time), there is an arrangement of the Clarinet Sonata, Op. 28, for Viola and Piano, and an ultra-rare chance to hear a work by the celebrated Violist, Fyodor Druzhinin, in his Viola Sonata (also a world premiere).

Disc 1
Weinberg - Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 28 (Viola transcription)
Druzhinin - Sonata for Viola Solo
Weinberg - Sonata for Viola Solo, No. 1, Op. 107

The Clarinet Sonata is one of Weinberg's most popular works, understandable from its easily-accessible language and charming opening movement. In Viola transcription, the warmth of the solo line is heavily accentuated, as well as the soaring qualities present in the adagio third movement.

Druzhinin was perhaps most famous for his position as Violist with the Beethoven Quartet, replacing his teacher Vadim Borisovsky in 1964. He was also head of the Viola department at the Moscow Conservatoire for more than twenty years, with notable pupils including Yuri Bashmet. Shostakovich dedicated his final work, the Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 147, to Druzhinin. The sonata clearly demonstrates Druzhinin's mastery for the instrument, as well as a keen sense of drama in composition.

Finally, then, the first of Weinberg's Viola Sonatas to round off the disc. Weinberg's predates Shostakovich's Sonata, as it was written in July 1971. It is also dedicated to Druzhinin (hence the comment on the excellent programming!) All of Weinberg's sonatas for solo viola date from his later years, and display tendencies to be found across his later style, employing a tough and abstract musical language. This can be heard in the opening movement, though Adler exploits the melodic qualities to their full potential. The pace quickens with the second movement, before side-stepping for a more contemplative adagio third movement. However, it is in the Allegro fourth movement that Adler's virtuoso playing really comes into its own for the first time on this album. A clock-like pulsing begins that remains insistent through the whole of the movement, slowly expanding in register, leading to a multitude of technical effects. Triplets emerge out of the pulsing, soon replaced by semiquaver flourishes, which themselves expand into hugely demanding quadruple stops and runs of harmonic notes. Adler's playing communicates a great control and clam, providing a thrilling conclusion to the first disc.

Disc 2
Weinberg - Sonata for Viola Solo, No. 2, Op. 123
Sonata for Viola Solo, No. 3, Op. 135
Sonata for Viola Solo, No. 4, Op. 136

Weinberg's Second Sonata for Solo Viola was written in August 1978 and is dedicated to Dmitry Shebalin. Shebalin (son of Vissarion Shebalin, the composer) was most famous for succeeding Rudolf Barshai as Violist for the Borodin Quartet. Shebalin was a pivotal member of the ensemble for over forty years. Weinberg had a close working relationship with the Borodin Quartet; no fewer than five of his quartets were premiered by the ensemble, and he dedicated three to them as a group - the 8th, 13th and 17th (the last on the occasion of the group's 40th anniversary). Shebalin passed away earlier this month, at the age of Eighty-Three.
    The second Viola Sonata is perhaps more approachable than the First, as the almost-excessive virtuosic demands are absent. It is also, however, more embedded in Weinberg's later style, where his melodic focus moves into a more abstract territory. A new sense of fragility is introduced in this work, which comes across excellently in the warm recording tone.

   The Third and Fourth Sonatas were written just over a year apart - the former in August 1982, the latter in December 1983. They were given consecutive opus numbers, and both are dedicated to Mikhail Tolpïgo, also a student of Borisovsky, like Druzhinin, but also principal viola of the USSR Academic Symphony Orchestra. The Third Sonata is an extremely demanding work across five movements - of course, Adler takes such challenges in her stride, as well as hinting at the insular fragility that will be further emphasised in the Fourth Sonata. The later work is much more subdued, but also has many beautiful moments, especially in the final movement.

Overall, then, this CD represents a fine set. Adler's playing is warm and controlled throughout, showing refinement in the dark lyricism of Weinberg's later style and virtuosity in the challenging demands of Weinberg's solo writing. For specialists' interest, the programming couldn't be better and the CD packaging is excellent, in keeping with the Neos label's other Weinberg releases. I heartily recommend this recording, especially as an introduction into the sound world of Weinberg's extensive writing for solo strings.

Links of interest:

Album to buy on

Concert recordings from Adler's own website, including a live performance of the second sonata

Dmitry Shebalin, obituary (The Strad) - included for topical relevance

Friday 23 August 2013

Happy 90th Birthday to Zofia Posmysz

Today is the 90th birthday of Zofia Posmysz, author of The Passenger, which provided the impetus for Weinberg's celebrated opera of the same name. I wish her many happy returns, and many more years in which to continue the inspiring work that has made her famous.

A tireless writer and campaigner about Holocaust commemoration and education, Posmysz's contribution to the field will be celebrated at a ceremony by the International Auschwitz Committee (more details here).

Here is an excerpt from my post about Posmysz and The Passenger:

"The story of 'The Passenger' started several years before Weinberg even encountered it, however, and to tell the tale of its conception, we must focus on a Polish author, Zofia Posmysz.

Zofia Posmysz camp photograph, Auschwitz.
Posmysz was 18 years old when she was arrested by the Nazi gestapo for accompanying an individual who was distributing political leaflets. She was sent to Auschwitz camp, where we was imprisoned for three years. During that time, she was witness to immeasurable cruelty and despair, but she also found hope. A young Polish officer by the name of Tadeusz risked his life to make her a medallion featuring Christ on the cross, a medallion which Posmysz wears to this day. During her incarceration, she nearly died from Typhoid, but she recovered and survived Auschwitz. 
   An incident in 1962 vividly returned her to life in the camp–and directly inspired the scenario that would go on to become 'The Passenger'. While visiting the Champs-Elysées in Paris, she overheard a group of German Tourists:
Suddenly I heard a voice. It was remarkably like the voice of our guard Frau Franz. Her voice always sounded so shrill… And now I could hear the same screams in the Place de la Concorde. I thought: ‘My God, it’s our prison guard!’ I looked in every direction and tried to find her but of course it wasn’t her. Even so, my heart missed a beat. And I thought: ‘If it had been her, what would I have done?’

 Posmsyz confronted her past, and wrote a radio play in 1959 called 'Passenger from cabin 45'. By 1962, this had expanded into a book, ' Pasażerka'." 

For further reading, see these links:

Jessica Duchen interview with Posmysz  

Alex Ross, The New Yorker, 'Memories of music at Auschwitz' 

Wednesday 14 August 2013

Round-up of news

This is a short round-up of recent and upcoming releases, upcoming concerts and events and anything else in the category of 'other news'.


I hope the release of the Pacifica Quartet's 'Soviet Experience Vol. 3' CD has not slipped reader's by – the latest volume in their excellent Shostakovich cycle features Weinberg's Sixth Quartet, in a refreshing and energised rendition. BBC Music's CD of the month in their August issue this year, it is certainly well worth buying. (The previous two volumes of Shostakovich quartets, featuring Myaskovsky's Thirteenth Quartet and Prokofiev's First, are also well worth buying, if only for the dynamism in their Shostakovich interpretations).

September sees the release of a new CD, featuring Weinberg's Concertino for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 42, alongside the familiar Chamber Symphonies of Shostakovich (i.e. Quartets 8 and 10 arranged for String Orchestra by Rudolf Barshai – the tenth quartet should stand out to readers, as it is dedicated to Weinberg). This album is released to celebrate the silver anniversary of the Amsterdam Sinfonietta, with artistic director Candida Thompson as soloist. [Review to follow upon release].
P.s. more info available here.


Hamburg Chamber Music Festival
 - I have promoted this upcoming event several times. See here for my previous post on the festival. See their website also, for more info.

Traunsteiner Sommerkonzerte
 - A mini-festival, running 1st-8th September in the town of Traunstein, Bavaria, with a composer-portrait focus on Weinberg.
Their programme features the following Weinberg works:

'The Cranes are Flying' - (Film Screening)
 Piano Quintet, Op. 18
Clarinet Sonata, Op. 28
Third sonata for solo Viola, Op. 135
Second sonata for Cello and piano, Op. 63
String Quartet No. 15, Op. 124
Screening of the 2010 Bregenz production of The Passenger, Op. 97
Piano trio, Op. 24

It's certainly an exciting programme, one with a great list of performers, too, including the Quatuor Danel, Julia Rebekkah Adler, Atrium Quartett, Jascha Nemsov and many others who will be familiar to Weinberg enthusiasts.

See the festival website here.

Wigmore Hall, London

A chamber music concert, featuring piano trios by Shostakovich, Weinberg and Brahms, with Janine Jensen, Torleif Thedéen and Itamar Golan.

Programme as follows:
Piano Trio No. 1 in C minor Op. 8
Piano Trio Op. 24
Piano Trio No. 1 in B Op. 8
Tickets and further info can be found at the Wigmore Hall website, here.

Upcoming dates

23rd August (next Friday) marks the ninetieth birthday of Zofia Posmysz, author of the novel Pasażerka, upon which Weinberg's opera The Passenger is based. Posmysz is a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, and a ceremony has been organised in her honour for 25th August, by the International Auschwitz committee - link here.

For more info on Posmysz and The Passenger, see my post here.

Other news

I am delighted to inform you that I will be speaking at the Festival Voix Etouffées in Strausbourg, 7-8 November, on the topic of Weinberg and Holocaust commemoration. More details to follow. D.E.

Wednesday 7 August 2013

Weinberg at the movies

Weinberg's generation was one of the first to grow up surrounded by cinema. As a burgeoning composer, he often wrote music for film to supplement his income ('supplement' may not be the right word; Weinberg earned a very comfortable living from his film work alone). While other composers in the twentieth-century dismissed such duties as 'hack-work', Weinberg took his work seriously, proving himself as an extremely effective writer for cinema.

What follows is an extensive (but by no means exhaustive) list of Weinberg's film work, including several Youtube clips to illustrate his proficiency in the genre.


I have tried to be as accurate as possible with translations and release dates. If there any corrections, please do not hesitate to get in contact. This list was produced from my own notes in consultation with the IMDB website and Claude Torres's excellent website dedicated to Weinberg (see links below).


Fredek uszczęśliwia świat (Poland, 1936) [Fredek makes the World Happy] Released as ‘Happy Freddy’ in the UK

Polkan i Shavka (1949) [Polkan and Shavka] Animation

Dedushka i Vnuchek (1950) [Grandfather and Grandson] Animation

Khrabryy Pak (1953) [Brave Pak] Animation

Dva Druga (1955) [Two Friends] Gorky Film Studios

Ukrotitelnitsa Tigrov (1955) [The Tiger Tamer]

A suite of the film music was made: Suite of the film music 1  
2nd Part

Medovyy Mesyats (1956) [The Honeymoon] Romantic Comedy

Devenatset Mesyatsev (1956) [The Twelve Months] Animation

Letyat Zhuravli (1957) [The Cranes are Flying] - Winner of Palme D’Or, Cannes Film Festival 1958

Whole film (no subs)

Posledniy Dyuym (1958) [The Last Inch]

Whole film on youtube (No subs)
Not youtube, but with subs

Shofyor Ponevole (1958) [A Reluctant Driver]

Posledniye Zalpy (1960) [The Last Volley] War film

Most Pereyti Nel’zya (1960) [Bridge cannot be passed]

Sud Sumasshedshikh (1961) [Court of the Mad]

Clip, featuring some music

Bar’yer Neizvestnosti (1961) [Barrier of Uncertainty]

Molodo-Zeleno (1962) [Young Green]

Ulitsa Nyutona, Dom 1 (1963) [Newton Street, House 1]

Toptyzhka (1964) Animation

Pereklichka (1965) [Roll-Call]

Whole film, no subs

Ani Ne Proydut (1965) [They will not pass]

Kanikuly Bonifatsiya (1965) [Boniface’s Vacation] Animation

Giperboloid Inzhenera Garina (1965) [The Hyperboloid of Engineer Garin] Science-Fiction film

Po Tonkomu l’du (1966) [On Thin Ice]

Seraya Bolezn’  (1966) [Grey Sickness]

Krepkiy Oreshek (1967) [A hard nut to crack]

Tatyanin Den’ (1967) [Tatyana’s Day]

Fokusnik (1967) [The Conjurer]

Beg Inokhodsta (1968) [Goodbye, Gulsary!]

Vinni Pukh (1969) [Winnie the Pooh] Animation

Byl’-Nebylitsa (1970) [True Story-Fiction] Animation

Vinni Pukh Idyot v Gosti (1971) [Winnie the Pooh goes visiting] Animation

Za Vsyo v Otvete (1972) [Responsible for Everything]

Vinni Pukh i Den Zabot (1972) [Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day] Animation

Neylon 100% (1973) [100% Nylon] Comedy

Tovarisch General (1973) [Comrade General]

Czarevich Prosha (1974) [Tsarevich Prosha]

Whole film (no subs)

Moy Dom, Teatre (1975) [My House, the Theatre]

Afonya (1975) Comedy - one of the highest-grossing films in Soviet History

Full film (no subs)

Chestnoe Volshebnoe (1975) [Upright Magic]

Kak Ivanushka-durachok za Chudom Khodil (1977) [How Ivan the fool travelled in search of a wonder]

Whole film (No subs)

Marka Strany Gondelupy (1977) Family film

Solovey (1979) [The Nightingale] Musical based around the Hans Christian Andersen story

Tegeran-43 (1981) [Assassination Attempt] Action film

Oslinaya Shkura (1982) [Donkey’s Hide] Family Comedy/Fantasy

Full film (No subs)

O Strannostyakh Lyubvi (1983) [About Oddities of Love] Romantic Comedy

I Vot Prishyol Bumbo (1984) [And along came Bumbo!] Family

Full film (no subs)

Lev i Byk (1984) [Lion and Bull] Animation

Skazka pro Vlyublyonnogo Malyara (1987) [The Tale of the Painter in Love]

Otche Nash (1989) [Our Father in Heaven] Drama

Malenkiy Chelovek v Bolshoy Voyne (1989) [Little Man in the Great War]

IMDB Weinberg list
Claude Torres's Weinberg Filmography