Forbes

CLASSICAL CD OF THE WEEK (April 11, 2018)
Often we don’t know what we have in something (or someone) until we have it not. Case in point the interpretative excellence of Murray McLachlan’s Mieczysław Weinberg sonata performances. They were quite impressive when I first heard these recordings (world premieres in the late 80s) re-issued on Divine Art Records‘ „Russian Piano Music“ series. But for one reason or another they didn’t make the cut for a „CD of the Week“ bit or „Dip Your Ears“ post or some-such review. But when I was recently reviewing a release of Weinberg’s piano music for a German reviewing website it sent me back to McLachlan and re-emerge with newfound, strengthened admiration for his world premiere recordings that are, for the time being, not being bettered but only made to sound better by the competition.

Mind you, I’m delighted to see new recordings of Weinberg’s music pop up when just over a decade they were rarities and neither publishers nor consumers had figured out how even to spell him: Vainberg, Vaynberg, Vajnberg, Wajnberg, and Weinberg? Moishei, Moishe, Moissei, Moisey (Samuilovich), or Mieczysław? This renaissance – on record, if not in the concert hall – continues unabated and to have three recordings of his sonatas – two of which cover (or presumably will cover) his entire output for piano, is a delight. Multiple interpretations are necessary to truly appreciate a composer’s output. But that’s not to say that the newer versions always supplant earlier attempts.

The Second Piano Sonata, op.8, composed 1942 in Tashkent and premiered by a 26-year-old Emil Gilels after Weinberg was granted relocation to Moscow (thanks to Shostakovich’s agency), opens with a catchy theme that blows through the first movement like driven by a gust of wind. There’s something of a perpetuum mobile character about it. Performed by Elisaveta Blumina, this sounds elegant and lean, controlled and fastidious if not necessarily fast. Turn to Murray McLachlan’s 1998 premiere recording (originally released on Olympia), though, and what you get is headlong recklessness. He’s off and away, wildly pouncing through the tumultuous passages – with unstoppable dynamism, galloping – not dancing.

The second movement – really a Scherzo (Allegretto) that ruminates for a while before being jolted into action all the sudden – becomes a meditation in the hands of Mlle. Blumina. Where McLachlan hops in and out in two minutes, she takes four… leaving a nuanced, gentle impression, but not much of the scherzo character… more of a melancholic circus troupe. She’s more successful in the slow movement, turning it into a mobilé (à la Alexander Calder) that gracefully dances on the ceiling: McLachlan’s, meanwhile, sways as if to indicate a coming earthquake. Never mind Allison Brewster Franzetti, the third pianist to have recorded the complete Weinberg sonatas (on Grand Piano): she makes a lullaby of the movement and never wakes up for the finale (Vivace). Weinberg quotes Haydn here; Blumina displays according elegance. McLachlan is digging through it with force.

The Fourth Sonata, op.56 in B minor, was written in 1955. Darkness reigns for the most part, but subtly: Weinberg had been arrested in the meantime (for being too Jewish and too prominent) and was saved only by Stalin’s death – if this didn’t influence anything specifically in this work or not, it certainly colored Weinberg’s compositional tone in general and outlook in life. The sonata opens with a very catchy phrase that could be straight out of Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues. Before the earworm bores into your brain, it’s replaced by another, from the second movement. The third movement is softly melancholic and reminds of Schumann in its songfulness. Mlle. Blumina beguiles with a beautifully light touch that reminds of the recording of dedicatee Emil Gilels, who also plays up the elegant, rather than the dangerous side of the sonata. But then Gilels also takes the movement about a third faster than Blumina, which in turn is closer to McLachlan, who roughs the passage up to make it sound more dangerous. Perhaps gruff danger isn’t always necessary in Weinberg, but it sure is exciting. And it beats Allison Brewster Franzetti’s recordings, which are beautifully recorded but seem to miss the point – unless the point is stasis.

Over the course of all six sonatas in these various interpretations, I’m left with this image: McLachlan fires off hardcore firecrackers right out of his hand. Elisaveta Blumina puts rockets into champagne bottles and watchfully minds the prescribed safety distance. Allison Brewster Franzetti meanwhile waves around with sparklers and pontificates on the dangers of fireworks generally and specifically. Something for every taste. But unless the likes of Florian Uhlig or Tzimon Barto or Paavali Jumppanen or Anton Batagov or Igor Levit perform this music – which so deserves variety – my Weinberg-boat is most clearly rocked by wonderfully gruff McLachlan.

—Jens Laurson