About this Recording
8.572281 - WEINBERG, M.: Cello Music (Complete), Vol. 2 - Cello Solo Sonatas Nos. 2-4 (Feigelson)

Mieczysław Weinberg (1919–1996): Complete Music for Solo Cello • 2
Sonatas for Solo Cello Nos. 2, 3 and 4


Following the 1996 première of the 24 Cello Preludes Op. 100 and my recording of it along with the Sonata for Solo Cello No. 1, Op. 72, I contacted the widow of Weinberg (as the composer had died earlier that year) about the three other solo sonatas that remained unpublished. To my delight the music was promptly found and thanks to the help of my Moscow relatives everything was copied and sent to me. It took about a year for me to learn the sonatas from the composer’s manuscripts and to make another recording. In 1999 I performed this entire repertoire at St Stephen’s Church in Manhattan, effectively giving world premières of Sonata No. 3 and Sonata No. 4.

Weinberg wrote the Sonata for Solo Cello No. 2, Op. 86, in 1965 as a fortieth birthday gift to another favoured cellist and friend, a legendary member of the Borodin Quartet, Valentin Berlinsky, who gave it a first performance in Moscow in 1966. It is as highly charged, but larger and more substantial than the first sonata. The first movement, Moderato sostenuto opens with a very distinctive, dotted-rhythm theme which, as well as the movement as a whole, could be characterized as a “mourning chant” with a bell-like quality. As with many other works, it clearly reflects the composer’s life-long ideé fixe: the immense human suffering experienced during the Second World War. The same boldness is evident in the second movement, Allegretto, here given a stomping dance mode. The Adagio that follows reveals another end of the expressive spectrum: introverted, personal and soft-spoken, soaring to a captivating, quiet mid-section. It “reawakens” rudely to a dramatic reality invoking intonations from the first movement and throwing itself right into finale, Presto. The last movement has great gusto and an intensity rarely felt in other music. A “hit” octave element repeats itself again and again, starting over and over, followed by a “running” motive common to the finale from the First Sonata. Again, Weinberg mixes elements of Jewish and Russian folk-tunes and rhythms, well spiced by dissonance. After reaching an emotional climax, the music suddenly loses all of its drive, taking off into the softest harmonics, like a departing spirit, and the work ends with the distant dotted-rhythm theme of the beginning. It is worth mentioning that the second sonata was largely re-written by Weinberg in 1977 into a new work within Op. 121. This recording features the original version.

Looking at the manuscript of the Sonata for Solo Cello No. 3, Op. 106 (1971), it is evident that something was initially written and then erased above the title. Keeping in mind the history of this period and the widening gap between Weinberg and Mstislav Rostropovich, one might easily assume that it was related to an original dedication. What a sad similarity with the 24 Preludes composed just a few years earlier in 1968!

The Second and Third Sonatas are very close in size and construction, but dissimilar in their character; the latter is far more lyrical. Weinberg wrote it in Serebryannij Bor, a small village just outside Moscow which is also a popular recreation spot with tall-pine forests along the Moscow River, usually a very tranquil place in early May. Just so, quietly and comfortably, the sonata’s opening “rolling” lines in Allegro are soon followed by a soft-sounding “murmur march”. This idyll is replaced later by “questioning” intonations and a resulting emotional rise. Next, the Allegretto is a charming scherzo full of humor and the grotesque, at some moments reminiscent of Mahler or Prokofiev. The following Lento is very broad and lyrical with the “soft comfort” of the sonata’s initial lines. A few passing “clouds” do not change its overall peaceful and introverted quality. Finally the Presto starts quietly with fast, abruptly-repeated passages, something reminiscent of Schumann. There is a truly haunting quality within this restrained sound (the entire movement is played with a mute) and fast motion starts and stops many times, changing into a patriotic song-like tune, running again and again. This “running” becomes more consistent, bit-by-bit, gaining continuity and power, and finishes the entire work with a forceful emotional outburst.

Written by Weinberg in January of 1985, the Sonata for Solo Cello No. 4, Op. 140, was another gift to Valentin Berlinsky, this time on the occasion of the cellist’s sixtieth birthday. Originally the sonata had only two movements. The first, an Andante, largely atonal and almost ten minutes long, involves a Hindemith-like declamatory line with an extremely demanding, greatly contrasting mid-section; this is a truly remarkable example of Weinberg’s dodecaphonic and aleatoric writing. The sonata was promptly revised on request from the dedicatee into a three movement work. The “hard” part of the Andante was omitted altogether and a charming, hommage à Prokofiev, tonally-wandering Allegretto was added before the remaining finale. The Allegro molto has something absurd and sinister in its continuous mechanical motion. It rolls forward with no signs of real life until only the last several lines that bring an emotional, human element back to end in a strong and positive coda.

To my own and, I assume, many cellists’ delight, all four sonatas for solo cello of Mieczyslaw Weinberg were finally published in 2005 by Hamburg-based Peer Music. Much thanks should be expressed to them for this contribution.

Josef Feigelson

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