- Sonata No. 1 for Violin Solo, Opus 82; and: Sonata No. 2 for Violin Solo, Opus 95; and: 24 Preludes for Violoncello Solo; and: Three Palms, Opus 120; and: String Quartet No. 14, Opus 122; and: String Quartet No. 15, Opus 124by Mieczysław Weinberg
In recent years, Mieczysław Weinberg (or Moseĭ Vaĭnberg, to use the spelling adopted by the Library of Congress; the latter will be used in this review) has been celebrated as a confident voice in Soviet music, and promoted as a lyrical complement to Shostakovich’s grotesque and monumental styles. In particular, Vaĭnberg’s chamber music has proven popular among performers and audiences alike. The editions featured here lack any foreword or commentary, and as a result, some introduction to his life and times may be helpful.
Vaĭnberg (1919–1996) was a Polish-Jewish immigrant to the U.S.S.R. who achieved great success during his heyday, but eventually fell into neglect toward the end of his life. His biography is certainly unique: he evaded the Nazis twice, only to suffer anti-Semitism at the hands of the Soviets. In addition, his father-in-law was murdered on Stalin’s orders in 1948, and Vaĭnberg himself was briefly imprisoned in 1953 on trumped-up charges of “Jewish bourgeois nationalism.” Despite such treatment, Vaĭnberg continued to hail the U.S.S.R. as his savior from the Nazis, since his close family remained in Poland only to be murdered in the Holocaust (for an excellent overview of Vaĭnberg’s life and works, see David Fanning, Mieczysław Weinberg: In Search of Freedom[Hofheim: Wolke, 2010]).
Vaĭnberg was an extremely prolific composer, producing twenty-six symphonies, seventeen string quartets, seven operas, some two-dozen song cycles, and around thirty instrumental sonatas. While some critics prematurely dismissed him as a “little Shostakovich,” many have since come to appreciate his highly expressive voice. Vaĭnberg and Shostakovich were close friends, and they showed each other their works in progress—in some cases, ideas can be shown to have originated from the younger composer (see Daniel Elphick, “Wein berg, Shostakovich, and the Influence of Anxiety,” The Musical Times155, no. 1929 [Winter 2014]: 49–62). In a handful of instances, it is difficult to surmise where ideas first originated. As a result, a considerable number of critics now speak of Vaĭnberg as the third composer of Soviet music, after Shostakovich and Prokofiev.
The revival since his death has resulted from the tireless efforts of many individuals, performers and critics alike. The biggest success in recent years has...