Rave Reviews for Weinberg Disk released in March 2021
Posted 19th May 2021
Sonata No. 3 / Yuri Kalnits, vln; *Michael Csányi-Wills, pno / Toccata Classics TOCC0096
The excellent violinist Yuri Kalnits, whose recordings of the Weinberg Solo Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2 I value very highly, presents here the third of these solo sonatas in addition to the violin-piano sonatas Nos. 3 & 6.
Before starting this review, however, I need to explain my position. Yes, I sometimes collect alternate performances of the same works when each is different in musical approach, but with 4 CD racks filled with discs, I only have so much space to work with. Since I already own the complete Weinberg violin-piano sonatas in an excellent set by Grigory Kalinovsky and Tatiana Goncharova on Naxos, I unfortunately need to make informed decisions on what to keep, and to date it has only been Kalnits’ solo sonatas that I’ve found the best performances. This doesn’t mean that you need to make the same hard choices that I do, and as you will see in the following review, I really enjoyed Kalnits’ performances very much.
Kalnits takes a somewhat more Romantic view towards Weinberg than is generally the case nowadays, though he does not gloss over the unusual rhythms of the scores. In this he is aided by pianist Michael Csányi-Wills, who is also a composer (I reviewed an album of his orchestral songs way back in October 2016). These two artists work hand-in-glove to present these scores in an unusually unified manner, tying the themes together with great acuity and playing with a superb legato. A good example is the second-movement “Andantino” from the Violin Sonata No. 3; Csányi-Wills picks out the quirky single-note theme with unusual delicacy and tenderness, as if caressing every note, and when Kalnitz enters on the violin he, too, plays very tenderly. The duo also does an excellent job of uniting the different tempi in the long third movement, which opens as an “Allegretto cantabile” before moving into a “Lento (quasi adagio).” And yet, it seemed to me that it was in the solo violin sonata No. 3 where Kalnits played with a gutsier, more involved feeling, which I admired very much. This is a work that’s not divided into movements, but rather sections: 1) [quaver] = 208 (bars 1-71), 2) [crotchet] = 84; molto espressivo (bars 72-136), 3) [crotchet] = 63 (bars 137-81), etc., eight sections in all. It’s a fascinating piece, typical of later Weinberg when his music fell less into conventional forms but rather assumed shapes of their own, with the rhythmic movement dictating the themes and motifs rather than the other way around.
The Violin-Piano Sonata No.6 is also a later work (Op. 136b), and here again Weinberg employs edgy, rhythmically serrated figures, played solo by the violin for two minutes and three seconds before the piano enters, very high up in the altissimo range of the keyboard, playing single-note figures in an ostinato rhythm, becoming somewhat busier as the music increases in intensity. Yet when Csányi-Wills moves down to the middle of the keyboard, around the 4:18 mark, he plays with a more legato feel, easing the tensions somewhat. But this is an angst-filled sonata, and the duo play it brilliantly.
Thus I can certainly recommend this disc, most especially for the solo Sonata No. 3 but also for their reading of the Violin Sonata No. 6. Excellent playing, and extremely well recorded.
—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley
With this release of Volume 3, violinist Yuri Kalnits and pianist Michael Csányi-Wills are well on their way to completing their four volume traversal of all of the Violin Sonatas by Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996). Previous releases of Volume 1 and Volume 2 were each awarded the coveted Diapason D’or award, and it’s easy to understand why. These two musicians are completely copacetic to Weinberg’s aesthesics, and respond to his music with alacrity and a profound understanding of its raison d’être. Despite the music’s slightly “Jewish folklore” outer layers, at its core lies a grim and dispirited view of Soviet life. Weinberg was a Polish resident who fled to the Soviet Union during the war to escape Nazi internment. His Violin Sonata No. 6 was dedicated to his mother who died, along with other family members, in one of the concentration camps. The way Yuri Kalnits digs into the icy cold high register notes following the long and steady ascent which opens the first movement is very effective, and so is the utter sense of desolation they both convey at the conclusion of the final movement.
Just like Prokofiev, Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s style was marked by the use of distinctive harmonic intervals all his own which defined his sound, and is highly apparent in the Violin Sonata No. 3. And here both Kalnits and Csányi-Wills reveal their affinity for this music in how well they work together to capture and communicate the composer’s expressive details. Unlike a Mozart sonata for example, there’s more than just music notation within Weinberg’s scores, and only musicians of this calibre can fully convey a composer’s deepest intent. Listen to the final few minutes of this sonata and how acute their perception of its significance is, and how a few notes on a page can move the soul, and you will know what I mean. Below is a short audio clip of its opening movement.
Jean-Yves Duperron – March 2021
Considering that the release of the first two sonatas, for solo violin and the one with piano, by the same performers was still noted as a first recording in 2010, the (re)discovery of this composer is not that long ago. With their four-part recording of all sonatas, violinist Yuri Kalnits and pianist Michael Csanyi-Wills have reached the third level. Again they present this music with as much dedication as intellectual skills, that it is a pleasure to listen to their playing.
Now, some may think that, for example, the third sonata with piano, with its clearly sharper harmonic language from the beginning, is not exactly an easy listening pleasure. However, if one listens carefully to this idiosyncratic music, it unfolds its full radiance and allows one to share in its intense message.
The third solo sonata, dedicated to the composer’s father, a passable violinist, reveals structural similarities to the music of Dmitri Shostakovich, but without detracting from Weinberg’s singularity.
The Sixth Sonata with Piano, dedicated to Weinberg’s mother, is given here as op. 136bis, since it was missing from the official list of works and only was discovered in the family archive in 2007.
Yuri Kalnits and Michael Csanyi-Wills play the works with the confidence of deep familiarity with the music and an unrelenting intensity. They convey the works with unflagging energy, without therefore leaving the technically clean and cultivated paths, so that their tone, especially the one of Yuri Kalnits, produces no sharpness, but always remains sonorous.
If Kalnits is able to freely develop his characteristic style in the solo sonata, he does not show any constriction in the interplay with Csanyi-Wills. Rather, the partners complement each other in a closely interwoven common path that shows the invigorating togetherness and does not allow any digressions from either side to be heard. In addition, the recording technique produces an inconspicuously transparent, pleasant-sounding tone, so that everything fits together to form an excellent overall picture.
Played with just as much gusto and feeling as earlier entries in the sequence, this third volume of Weinberg’s complete works for violin and piano is just as accomplished as its predecessors. Yuri Kalnits, together with pianist Michael Csanyi-Wills is on impeccable form. Weinberg rapidly made a name for himself as one of the rising stars of the younger generation of Soviet composers. The arena in which his reputation first soared was chamber music – a well-chosen field, since his new friend and mentor, Dmitry Shostakovich, had for some years been calling on his colleagues to cultivate it. One important difference between Weinberg and Shostakovich is that where the latter left only two mature piano sonatas and one each for violin, viola and cello with piano, Weinberg composed 29 sonatas in all, of which six are for violin and piano, and three for violin solo.
Classical CD Choice
In the wake of the increased popularity of Shostakovich’s music (and rightly so), it did not take long for a reappraisal and rediscovery of music by his friend and protégée Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996). All of Weinberg’s quartets and piano music, and most of his 22 symphonies, are now available on disc, revealing him to be much more than Shostakovich-lite.The two composers competed in a friendly contest of producing string quartets, but in terms of violin sonatas Weinberg was streets ahead with six, to Shostakovich’s one. This disc is the third in a series on the Toccata label of the complete violin sonatas, including three for solo violin. It contains Nos 3 and 6, and the Third Solo Sonata.
1947 was a difficult year for Soviet composers, including Weinberg (a Jew in exile), but the Third Violin Sonata of that year is remarkably gentle. Flowing lyricism graces the first and third movements, and although the central scherzo contains propulsive piano accompaniment figures and passages of pizzicato, it remains mellow in outlook. Sonata No 6 is a late work, and here Weinberg has created sparser textures. There is something archaic about the bell-like sonorities of the piano, adorning the typically clean, pure lines of the violin part. Kalnits and Csányi-Wills play these works to the manner born, capturing the composer’s pensive, contemplative musical world.
Kalnits also dispatches the Solo Sonata with flair. This 1979 work is well written; however I must admit that unaccompanied violin double-stopping soon wears out its welcome.
It seems like only yesterday that Mieczysław Weinberg was an obscure composer, his reputation hampered by multiple spellings of his name, and his role in musical history limited to a footnote in biographies of his close friend Dmitri Shostakovich. But now, his voluminous output is the subject of several encyclopedic recording projects, most of which remain ongoing, due to the sheer number of works involved. Most are producing impressive results, and the competition is keen: This series of violin sonatas from Yuri Kalnits on Toccata is up against Linus Roth on Challenge, Grigory Kalinovsky on Naxos, and Stefan Kirpal on CPO, as well several notable one-off recordings from Gidon Kremer. But Kalnits holds his own, and this, Complete Violin Sonatas: Volume Three, is compelling and would also serve as an ideal introduction to Weinberg’s chamber music.
The Violin Sonata No. 3, op. 37, was composed in 1947. This was a few years into Weinberg’s friendship with Shostakovich, and the comparisons are instructive. David Fanning writes in his liner note that the slow movement exhibits a “tortuous lyricism” that reflects the similarly ascetic slow movements of Shostakovich’s Second Piano Sonata and Cello Sonata. In fact, “tortuous lyricism” sums up almost everything on this album very well. Weinberg had a strong lyrical impulse, with a decidedly Jewish flavor (especially in this Third Sonata), but favored a strict economy of means. The result, in both the Third and Sixth Sontatas here, is a directness and intimacy of expression.
The Sonata No. 3 for Solo Violin, op. 126, is much later work, from 1979. The violin now stands alone, but Weinberg raises the stakes, with more dramatic and emphatic gestures than are found in either of the accompanied sonatas. A lot of the violin writing here is very high, and much is at a sustained loud dynamic. The work is in a single movement, but visits a wide range of styles and moods. The composer relies on fluent technique from the performer, especially in the double-stopping, but he does not show off the virtuosity in the way that he does in the First Solo Sonata.
The Sixth Violin Sonata, op. 136bis, dates from 1982. It was not performed in Weinberg’s lifetime, and the score was only discovered among his papers in 2007, a discovery that timed in nicely with the revival of Weinberg’s work. The “tortuous lyricism” is even more evident here, the music always following a lyrical impulse, but the textures even more skeletal, with extended solo passages for the both violin and piano. But there is also a more desperate and impassioned aspect to this music. It starts with an incessantly repeating figure from unaccompanied violin, and the gentle insistence of that opening gesture continues throughout the entire work. As with both of the other sonatas on this recording, the Sixth ends quietly, with a feeling of gentle resignation. That is a Weinberg trademark, but it is more successful in some works than others. Often, it feels like that composer has simply lost the will to continue, but in the Sixth Sonata it brings a more meaningful sense of closure, as it both balances and calms the insistent drive that has carried through the sonata’s three movements.
Yuri Kalnits and Michael Csányi-Wills favor intimacy over grand statements in this repertoire, a choice that both succeeds in communicating Weinberg’s personal voice and in separating them from the competition. The sound engineering is part of that profile, with the violin recorded up close, and the piano not subject to extraneous resonance. (The accompanied sonatas were recorded at St John’s Church, Fulham, London, and the Solo Sonata at K Studios, London; Csányi-Wills produced the former, and Kalnits the latter.) Kalnits has a woody edge to his tone, but with plenty of warmth and richness. His vibrato is narrow and finely controlled. He sometimes takes liberties with articulation, hinting a swoops and slides, though without fully indulging. That suits Weinberg’s Jewish side and is never taken to extremes. In the Solo Sonata, Kalnits sometimes sounds strained, and the combination of high tessitura, continuous double-stopping, and loud dynamics occasionally challenges both his sound production and intonation. No such qualms in the accompanied sonatas though. The most satisfying music-making here is in the slow movement of the Sixth Sonata, where Kalnits’s woody tone balances elegantly against the warm piano sonorities beneath.
After hearing Kalnits in this repertoire, most of the competition seems excessively theatrical and overwrought. The most obvious comparison in the Sixth Sonata is Gidon Kremer and Yuliana Avdeeva (DG 003111102). Kremer is less lyrical but more theatrical. His articulation is more varied, and his dynamics are more extreme. It is an impressive account, and probably deserves top billing, but Kalnits finds something different, an intimate, confessional quality that comes through in his continuously lyrical playing. In the Solo Sonata No. 3, the most obvious competition is Linus Roth (Challenge 72688). Again, Roth deals in big, emphatic gestures, while Kalnits tends to be more reflective and personal. The sheer purity of Roth’s tone, and the precision of his intonation and tone control, set him apart, but Kalnits offers a welcome alternative. Roth is also convincing in the Third accompanied sonata (Challenge 72567), and there is also a notable account from Kolja Blacher (Hänssler 93190), who was ahead of the Weinberg revival in 2007. Kalnits again takes a more lyrical approach, but he is also slightly faster in the first movement than either Roth or Blacher, and his sense of gentle but insistent propulsion holds the music together. In terms of the competition, this Third Sonata is the compelling reason to hear Kalnits and Csányi-Wills’s new release, but on their own terms, the accounts of all three sonatas are excellent.
Classical CD Reviews – May 2021
Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996) has become after his death regarded as a major 20th century compositional voice. There are reasons of course why he got proper recognition only in this century and there is no need to explore that here. The main thrust of it all is our ability to be exposed to his music in a major way now. A great example of that is the recording of his Complete Violin Sonatas, of which we now have a Volume Three (Toccata Classics TOCC 0096).
Yuri Kalnits gives us a committed, dynamic and wonderfully expressive performance on violin throughout. Michael Csanyi-Wills compliments Kalnits nicely on piano, making a poetic twosome that I suspect the composer would be very happy about.
The opening Sonata No. 3 (1947) has marvelous depth, bitter-sweet, tart modern presence and a glorious sense of opening onto our musical perceptions. There is endless melodic-harmonic movement that Weinberg has in common with Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and yet by this point (1947) he has his own way of unfolding it all.
The Sonata No. 3 for Violin Solo (1979) has dramatic torque and a finely exploratory resonance that gives us a leaner, more abstract projecting than the earlier work perhaps. It is fascinating and deep in its wholeness and Kalnits defines and realizes it with a grand flourish one appreciates.
The program is topped off with the rather late (1982) Sonata No. 6 for Violin and Piano, which brings an expanded sense of space and time, a kind of meditative side more apparent and striking in how it all lays out.
After listening a good bit I must say that this volume in my view gives us some further aspects of Weinberg that help round out a portrait of him in chamber music form.
If you do a “Weinberg” search on the left-hand corner of this page you can find other related reviews I’ve done here. The Volume Three of the sonatas after living with for a week or so seems to me well worth your efforts to hear–for it gives us some gems of the later period and the performances are world-class. Very recommended.
Grego Applegate Edwards, May 2021
After about eight years, the third movement in the series of complete violin sonatas by Weinberg by the duo Kalnits and Csányi-Wills finally appears. The first two movements were hailed at the time and both received a French Diapason d’Or; given the quality of the current release, it must be strange if that doesn’t happen again. The six violin sonatas and the three violin solo sonatas by Weinberg are now completely recorded with the current release. The claim that this is the first complete recording of the sonatas is unfortunately unjustified, because violinist Linus Roth, also president of the German Weinberg Association, already completed his cycle for the Challenge Records label in 2013.
The accompanying booklet contains an excellent story by the English musician and musicologist David Fanning, who completed a second, more extensive Weinberg biography in 2019, which, remarkably, is still awaiting publication. The most interesting part of his commentary concerns the Violin Sonata No. 6 op. 136bis from 1981, in which he speculates about the possible reasons that the work was not made public during Weinberg’s lifetime, let alone appeared in the list of his compositions authorized by Weinberg himself. If the piece had been forgotten by the composer, he might not have thought it sufficient enough, especially since he also used important themes from the sonata in two symphonies that originated in exactly the same period, or had Weinberg thought it had been lost or lost. ?
The sonata was discovered in Weinberg’s own archive in 2007. The work was composed in memory of his mother who died in the war. Partly thanks to the cool, unemphatic and lyrical performance of Kalnits and Csányi-Wills, a perhaps better reason emerges that the work has remained hidden for so long: was this concise work, full of intimacy, not just too personal, just a loving expression that the composer entrusted to paper only for himself? Because listening to this music repeatedly feels more and more like peeking into the soul of its writer.
The performing duo can also be found in the Violin Sonata No. 3. 37 from 1947 is the right tone. Rather as a medium than as an interpreter of the clear but modest modern language that Weinberg displays in this work, the players prove to be the best ambassadors at the moment. What impresses most is the honest and apparently objective approach to the music, with which the duo makes it known that they do not want to use the music as the vehicle of a possibly extremely personal interpretation, in which, for example, the personal circumstances of Weinberg’s life around the origin of his music. also have to find expression. Just as Weinberg never had the urge to promote his music strongly during his lifetime, so often this introverted but authentic expression sounds in his music.
The tragedy of the loss of his parents and sister is also concealed in various compositions, such as in the String Quartet No. 15 op. 124 (dedicated to his mother) and No. 16 op. 130 (to his sister). Weinberg’s only homage to his father, a war violinist and leader of a Jewish theater orchestra in Warsaw, is Sonata No. 3 for solo violin. Initially a granite block where the violinist has to “cut out” quite a bit of dissonance, the edges and grooves in the musical rock soften and the texture in the last two of the eight parts even refers to Jewish music. Violinist Kalnits seems fully aware of this progression and allows it to happen: he does not have to turn on or exaggerate anything, not in the loud, sharp, hard, nor in the soft or romantic. But what a pity that this work is not included in the same church acoustics as the duo sonatas! The violin has a fairly cold and flat response in the studio. But this comment does not detract from the excellent overall result.
It is fair to say that only the recordings of the complete sonatas by Linus Roth compete properly with those of Kalnits; Gidon Kremer’s recent recording of Violin Sonata No. 6, for example, is characterized by technical obstacles and the irrepressible urge to pump every note full of hectic nervousness. A CD edition of Sonata No. 3 for solo violin by Kremer (recorded live during the Lockenhaus Festival) also suffers from the same shortcomings. An at first sight attractive performance by Kolja Blacher of Violin Sonata No. 3 quickly steers the importance of interpretation over the importance of pure musical expression.
Kalnits is definitely the first choice in this repertoire, not least because of the fantastic collaboration with pianist Michael Csányi-Wills.
© Harry-Imre Dijkstra, May 2021