Tuesday 12 November 2013

Review: Complete Violin Sonatas, Volume Two (Yuri Kalnits and Michael Csányi-Wills, Toccata Classics)

This new release sees the long-awaited second volume in the Toccata Classics series of Weinberg's Violin Sonatas, with Yuri Kalnits on violin and Michael Csányi-Wills on piano (link to the Toccata website - complete with audio samples - here). On first impressions, the disc is attractively packaged and after several listens, I am more than convinced that this series is the one to opt for when it comes to Weinberg's violin works.

The first volume was released to rave reviews in 2011, and went on to win the prestigious Diapson d'Or award. The showcasing of excellent playing and choice of programming is extended onto this disc. With a third and final volume expected, the real strength of this series lies in its scope; the discs feature not only Weinberg's sonatas for violin and piano, but also the sonatas for solo violin, and several smaller works for good measure. 

This second volume features the second and fifth sonatas for Violin and Piano, the second solo sonata and the Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes for Violin and Piano. This huge variety gives Kalnits great opportunity to demonstrate his virtuosity on his instrument, while Csányi-Wills proves a sensitive and supporting accompanist.

The music

Weinberg wrote some thirty sonatas in total, a mixture of solo and ensemble with piano. Weinberg's writing for the violin was masterful from early on in his career, perhaps since his Father was a violin-player. Over the course of his life, Weinberg was able to work with some of the very best Soviet violinists, including David Oistrakh and Leonid Kogan.

- The first work featured on this disc is the Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes, Op. 47, No. 3. The original version was scored for orchestra, but Weinberg also produced this version. The published score features fingerings by Oistrakh himself. It is one of Weinberg's most appealing works, widely recorded and a favourite encore of Oistrakh.

At just under ten minutes, the work opens with an elegaic piano line. For the hushed opening, Kalnits and Csányi-Wills strike up a perfect balance, creating a hushed anticipation. A folk-inflected song theme emerges, the first of many to be elaborated on through the work. A slow but steady increase in tempo sees the violin soaring up to the heights for the first time on this disc - which Kalnits takes utterly in his stride. Indeed, these passages stand testament to the high recording quality - the balance is nothing below perfect throughout. At 4:15, the frantic and giddy scherzo-like central section of the work begins. The duo do justice to the near-manic mood, powering through to an ecstatic finish.

- Next up is the Second Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 15. The connections with Oistrakh continue here: the manuscript bears a dedication to him (almost certainly added years after it was first written) and Oistrakh gave the premiere performance in 1962. The language is similar to the First Sonata, written the previous year, though there are several indicators of an increasing sense of ambition. The piano has several opportunities to shine, such as at 2:30 in the first movement and Csányi-Wills does not neglect them. Following this passage a near-fugato dialogue between the duo begins, with effortless transition - this is clearly an excellent musical pairing. The introspective and searching Lento movement is here performed with energy, giving respite yet never failing to be gripping in interpretation. The lyrical mood is continued, now extended with a slightly more energetic folk-like episode. Fanning's liner notes point to similarities with the Third Quartet, Op. 14, immediately preceding the sonata. These include an ending that appears to lack conviction - Weinberg's full mastery of cyclic forms would be reached in a few years time.

- Compared with his First Sonata for solo violin, the second, Op. 95 is much more approachable. The first takes a caustic attitude, first heard in the Sonata for Two Violins, Op. 69. It takes a structure similar to a suite, to be noted from the movement titles. Kalnits has ample opportunity to showcase his talent as he weaves several lines at once, across several different techniques and textures. The work is dedicated to another great Soviet violinist, Mikhail Fikhtengolts. The seven movements of the work are inter-linked and named as follows:
Monody - Rests - Intervals - Repliques - Accompaniment - Invocation - Syncopations
They can accurately be described as a series of inter-linked studies - though it is much less demanding than Weinberg's first solo sonata - perhaps to the soloist's relief! (Though, of course, that work is tackled with full mastery on the First Volume).

- The final work on the disc is the Fifth Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 53, arguably the greatest of Weinberg's sonata works. Its mournful yet optimistic character can be ascribed to the fact that it was the first work Weinberg wrote after his release from prison in 1953. The work is dedicated to Shostakovich, perhaps as a result of his intervention on Weinberg's behalf during his imprisonment. The modal-inflected melody of the opening is portrayed tenderly by Csányi-Wills, as Kalnits soars high above later in the movement. The Allegro molto that follows is more fiendish, with a scurrying piano part that re-emphasises the modal inflection from beforehand. The third movement opens with a distinctive passage of complex violin double-stopping, soon joined by aggressive accents in the piano part. For the finale, Weinberg juxtaposes several tempo changes, beginning with a light and frantic violin line, before a funereal piano line interrupts, with hints of the opening movement, and a nod to Schubert and Debussy. An intense fugue for piano takes centreplace of this movement, similar to the Preludes and Fugues of Shostakovich, Op. 87. A heartfelt coda follows, rounding off this well-balanced work, and providing a moving close to this disc.

Overall, this disc represent a fantastic continuation of the series, with the partnership of Kalnits and Csányi-Wills continuing onto new heights. Comes highly recommended. 

Further Listening

- The obvious choice for further listening would be the first volume in the series, to be found here.

- Of further interest, see the Challenge Classics release of the near-complete works for Violin and Piano, with Linus Roth and José Gallardo (see my review here). While an excellent release, the Toccata series has the upper hand, with a sensitive balance, and the addition of the solo works alongside.

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