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8.557194 - MIASKOVSKY, N.: Violin Concerto in D Minor / WEINBERG, M.: Violin Concerto in G Minor (Grubert, Russian Philharmonic, Yablonsky)
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Nikolay Myaskovsky (1881-1950): Violin Concerto, Op

Nikolay Myaskovsky (1881-1950): Violin Concerto, Op. 44

Mieczys∏aw Vainberg (1919-1996): Violin Concerto, Op. 67


During the Week of White Russian Art in Moscow 1940, a young piano virtuoso and student of composition paid a visit to the doyen of Soviet symphonism, Nikolay Myaskovsky. ‘On that occasion a very warm and cordial relationship began ... I was twenty years old but he was already over fifty; it seemed to me that he was like an old man.’ Mieczys∏aw Vainberg, the youngster, was very embarrassed when, on his departure, ‘uncle’ Myaskovsky helped him with his overcoat. He did not yet know that this was the custom among Russians. As a Jew Vainberg had been forced to flee from his native Poland after the German attack in 1939, and to forget the prospects of going to the USA to continue his career as a pianist, but he had been received magnanimously in the Soviet Union, where an offer was made to study composition in Minsk with Vassily Zolotaryov, a disciple of Balakirev and Rimsky-Korsakov, and from there he had been sent to Moscow as a representative of the White Russian musicians.

Vainberg was born in 1919 in Warsaw, where his father was a composer and musical leader at a Jewish theatre; in 1881 Myaskovsky was born just outside this city, at the fortress Novo-Georgiyevsk, where his father served as an officer. He began his career in the army and was already a lieutenant when he began his musical studies in St Petersburg at the age of 25; one of his fellow students was Prokofiev, ten years his junior. They became good friends, but after graduation and at the outbreak of the First World War Myaskovsky had to join the army again. As a lieutenant with the sappers he suffered severe shell-shock and was sent home, eventually to settle in Moscow, where he was to spend the rest of his life. In 1921 he became a Professor of Composition at the Moscow Conservatory. He was never an ultra-modern composer, hence the absurdity of the severe criticism he received for “formalism” in 1948. With 27 symphonies he is considered one of the great masters of this genre in the twentieth century.


During the second half of the 1930s there was an important upsurge of interest in violin music in the Soviet Union. The reason was simple: it corresponded to what was to be known as the famous Soviet Violin School: the country’s violinists, with David Oistrakh at the head, were winning most competition prizes around the world. It was for Oistrakh that Myaskovsky in 1938 wrote his Violin Concerto in D minor, Opus 44, and it was to him that it was dedicated. This was Myaskovsky’s first ever concerto. Before beginning its composition he had meticulously studied the Beethoven and Tchaikovsky violin concertos, as well as those by Prokofiev. His aim was to create a work of broad symphonic format, and he was especially successful in the initial Allegro ed appassionato, longer than the two following movements together –  even after the composer (at Oistrakh’s suggestion, subsequent to the première) shortened the lavish solo cadenza for the revised edition, which appeared in the following year. The cadenza even now serves as an additional development of the movement’s entire thematic material, and thus the large sonata form is combined with a brilliant solo part.


The rôle of dramatic content in the work is not at all the same in the two following movements. The Adagio, molto cantabile is lyrical, but far from brooding. It possesses a kind of quiet optimism, which develops further into the dance-like and happy character of the finale, Allegro molto.

When the USSR became involved in the war in 1941 Vainberg was forced to leave Minsk, and he instead moved on to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. In 1943 Shostakovich, highly impressed by his first symphony, enabled him to take up residence in Moscow, where he was to spend the rest of his life. In the meantime his family in Poland had been murdered by the Nazis, and in 1948 his father-in-law, the famous Jewish actor Solomon Mikhoels, was liquidated on Stalin’s order on the wave of rising Soviet anti-semitism.


A deep friendship was to characterize Vainberg’s relationship with Myaskovsky and Shostakovich, and he showed every new composition to them. Shostakovich also showed his to Vainberg, whom he held to be one of the very best Soviet composers. When Vainberg in 1953 was arrested on a false charge as an “enemy of the people”, Shostakovich courageously intervened for him with the secret police, but in the end it was Stalin’s death that saved his life.


In a letter dated 1960 Shostakovich wrote to his friend Isaac Glikman: “I am very impressed by M.S. Vainberg’s Violin Concerto, superbly interpreted by the Communist violinist L.B. Kogan. It is a magnificent work. And I am weighing my words.” The epithet “Communist” was an allusion to the dedicatee — Kogan’s well-known sympathy for the régime. (The work was not given its first performance until early 1961, but it is possible that Shostakovich had heard it being played at the Composers’ Union.) This was at the beginning of Vainberg’s most successful period as a composer. He never joined the Party and as an immigrant he was no favourite of the authorities, yet the foremost artists of the country were queuing up to perform new works by him, and the vast majority of his compositions were indeed performed at the most famous venues in Moscow and elsewhere.


The Violin Concerto in G minor, Op. 67, is a formally large work with four full-sized movements, built along classical lines. One striking aspect is that the soloist is playing his highly virtuosic part almost continually through the piece; this is especially true in the first movement. This Allegro is constructed as a traditional sonata movement, with a rhythmically strict first theme and a second theme with a fascinating accompaniment by celesta and harp. In the second movement, Allegretto, the theme is initially presented without the soloist, then it is repeated over and over again in a variety of sonorities, until the movement ends with a short solo cadenza. The most romantic atmosphere is to be found in the Adagio, with dreaming, almost old-fashioned melodies; then the work ends with a finale, Allegro risoluto, with an effusive, joyfully dance-like character. A special effect is created by the appearance of one of the many “lesser” themes, which turns out to be a loan from Mozart’s “little” G minor symphony, and after reflecting the first movement, the work ends with a beautiful pianissimo passage.


Both composers had a strong sense of the dramatic, but it was equally their mild sense of humour that helped them through the difficulties of life. Vainberg related Myaskovsky’s reaction when they were standing together at a meeting where the 1948 Party Decree against formalists — among them Myaskovsky himself — was being discussed in a venomous atmosphere. Vainberg, in jest, whispered: “This is a historical Decree!”, but in response Myaskovsky hissed: “Not historical. Hysterical.”.


Per Skans

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