Monday, February 5, 2018

Violinist Grigory Kalinovsky and pianist Ron Regev perform sonatas of Mieczyslaw Weinberg at the Jerusalem Music Centre

Grigory Kalinovsky,Ron Regev (photo: Leonid Kriksunov)
In commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27th), a concert at the Jerusalem Music Centre presented works for violin and piano by Mieczyslaw Weinberg on January 27th 2018. Three of Weinberg’s works were performed by violinist Grigory Kalinovsky (Russia/USA) and pianist Ron Regev (Israel). Introducing the event, musicologist Ms. Janna Menhel spoke in depth about the composer’s life, his work and times.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg was born in Warsaw in 1919 where his father worked as a composer and violinist in a travelling Jewish theater. The young Weinberg became a renowned pianist. From 1931 to 1941, he studied composition with Vasily Zolotaryov. In 1941, his entire family was burned alive by the Nazis. As a refugee, Vainberg fled first to Minsk and then, in advance of the invading Nazi armies, to Tashkent, where he engaged in theatrical- and operatic projects. There he met Solomon Michoils, whose daughter he married. Michoels, the most famous Jewish actor in the Soviet Union, was murdered on direct orders from Stalin, It was in Tashkent that Weinberg wrote his First Symphony, sending it to Shostakovich, the work making a favourable impression on the latter. The two became friends and colleagues, resulting in Weinberg’s settling in Moscow, where he remained for the rest of his life. Weinberg was arrested for Jewish bourgeois nationalism on the absurd charge of plotting to set up a Jewish republic in the Crimea and released only after Stalin’s death in 1953. He gradually built up a reputation as a composer and supported by many leading Soviet singers, instrumentalists and conductors.

Weinberg’s oeuvre covers many genres, from film and circus music to tragic grand opera, from simple melodies with easy accompaniments to complex twelve-tone music. Characterized by virtuosity and elegance, it displays elements of Jewish, Polish, Russian and Moldavian folk music; his personal style boasts almost classical architecture, dynamic, beauty and warmth and a forward-driving motion. His melodic language – at times introverted and meditative-reflective, at other times full of effervescent joy of living – is is one of contrasts, expressing both the lighter and darker sides of life. Janna Menhel mentioned that many of Weinberg’s works deal with war and suffering. Of his 26 symphonies, the last to be completed, Kaddish, is dedicated to the memory of the Jews who perished in the Warsaw Ghetto. Weinberg donated the manuscript to the Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, Israel’s official memorial to victims of the Holocaust. Weinberg spent his last days in bad health and afflicted by a deep depression occasioned by the wholesale neglect of his music – an unworthy end to a career the importance of which has yet to be recognised. Weinberg died in February 1996.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg composed eight works for violin and piano, three of which were performed at the Jerusalem concert. Perhaps not as central to his oeuvre as the symphonies or string quartets, the violin sonatas nevertheless trace the development of his own personal style. Performing one of the earlier ones, Sonata No.2 for violin and piano Op.15, Kalinovsky and Regev engaged in the work’s agenda, both musical and emotional, evoking the 25-year-old composer’s broad soundscape of grim and ironic elements with large forte utterances, temporarily relieved by calmer moments of contemplation. .Dedicated to Soviet composer Boris Tchaikovsky (no relation to Pyotr Tchaikovsky) the Sonatina for violin and piano Op.46 (1949) opened in a flowing Romantic manner, with interest created by the different agendas of both instruments in the first movement. The Lento movement, its somewhat disturbing modal themes suggesting folk themes, led into the intense, terse yet equally endearing Allegretto moderato. Different again in approach, Sonata No.5 Op.53, composed in 1953, opened with what might evoke a vast Russian soundscape, its more intense middle section inviting the return of the movement’s appealing, initial pensive mood. Kalinovsky and Regev’s playing of this sonata emphasized the composer’s brilliant writing for both instruments, its rich palette of contrasts including the excitement and demonic sections of the 2nd movement (Allegro molto), the hesitating, spontaneous gestures in the 4th movement and, above all, how Weinberg approached each instrument as a soloist.

Weinberg is slowly being recognized as a 20th century genius, a figure of great significance of post-modern classical music. Janna Menhel saw the Jerusalem event as a step towards raising awareness to Weinberg’s music in Israel and bringing his hundreds of works back to concert halls. The audience, mostly consisting of people from the former Soviet Union, appreciated the artists’ profound performance of the works. One of the greatest violinists of his generation, Grigory Kalinovsky recently recorded all Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s sonatas for violin and piano with Tatiana Goncharova for the Naxos label. International artist and chairman of the Jerusalem Academy of Music’s Keyboard Department, Dr. Ron Regev prtnered Kalinovsky splendidly in this important repertoire.

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