MIECZYSLAW WEINBERG - Viola Sonatas MIECZYSLAW WEINBERG - Complete Sonatas for Viola Solo - Julia Rebekka Adler (Viola) - Jascha Nemtsov (Piano) - NEOS 11008/09

Despite remaining on the fringe of musical and social activities for most of his life, Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996) managed to compose 20 symphonies, 17 string quartets, 7 operas, concertos for cello, flute, clarinet, trumpet and violin, and many other chamber works. When the war started he fled his native Warsaw and escaped to the Soviet Union where he eventually became a close friend of Dmitri Shostakovich. Both composers influenced each other's outlook and writing. Somewhat bearing the same dark overtones as most of Shostakovich's output, Weinberg's music generally exudes a gentler, sunnier disposition.

This CD opens with the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 28 from 1945, in a version for Viola and Piano, and is a rather straightforward and uncomplicated work from a composer in his twenties, exposing his Jewish roots and already demonstrating a solid grasp of writing techniques. The other pieces on this recording, the four Sonatas for Viola Solo, all composed around 35 to 40 years later, are a different story. They should be titled 'Viola Etudes' instead of Sonatas, as each and every movement seems to present the player with a different challenge, both technical and emotional, all wrapped up in a musical discourse much more complex than a solo instrument might impart. Julia Rebekka Adler has taken it upon herself, in these world première recordings, to face these challenges head on. Her playing displays a mastery of the instrument that helps her tackle any hazardous moments with ease, and therefore she can focus her attention on the emotionally demanding content within the music. This is definitely not child's play for both the listener and the player, but when performed with intensity and commitment by a violist like Julia Rebekka Adler, the musical benefits eclipse the demands.

As an added bonus, and I believe also a world première recording, this CD also contains the Sonata for Viola Solo by Fyodor Druzhinin (1932-2007). He was a member of the Beethoven Quartet and the Viola Sonata op. 147 by Shostakovich was dedicated to him. This work of his is so well written, that having not bothered to look at the index when I first listened to this CD, I assumed that I was in fact listening to one of the Weinberg sonatas. I strongly recommend this recording to any student of the viola. It clearly demonstrates all the musical and technical qualities of the instrument. I also recommend it to any fans of music from that geo-political place and time. It will open your mind to other facets of these devoted composers.

Jean-Yves Duperron