History, the greatest of critics, quickly sorts out the fine, and even the very fine, from the great. It has not assigned Mieczyslaw Weinberg a place in the front ranks of composers, but still, the music of Weinberg is indeed very fine. He is a superb craftsman, and, like the more prominent Shostakovich and Prokofiev, his compositions are relentlessly intense, and their sharply chiseled structure glares out at us, refusing to be forgotten. Weinberg has a considerable melodic gift as well, but somehow the sounds—unmistakably Soviet sounds—do not seem to be his own. The usual references to bombs, bells, marches, the hardness of life, do not often cast their spell. Even so, they certainly reflect the times, but Prokofiev and Shostakovich, reflect something about themselves as well. That seems to be the missing element in these sonatas.
The term “Silver Age,” sometimes used to describe the poetry of Sologub and Blok, very well suits the works of their musical contemporaries. One is tempted to call the following, the Soviet era, the “Stainless-Steel Age:” cold, rigid, hard-edged. The sonatas of Shostakovich and Prokofiev often demand these qualities, and a “stainless steel” sound crept into the playing of the artists of the times such as Yudina and Sofronitski. So much so that even when they played Schubert, Tchaikovsky, or Rachmaninoff, that new hard sound was there.
Weinberg seems to invite such an approach, but it is pleasant to hear his work played by Murray McLachlan who has a beautiful supple tone, adding a wider field of sonority and textures than one would expect from works such as these. His pianissimo s are remarkably beautiful. The only comparison available to me is the American pianist Allison Brewster Franzetti who has recorded some of the sonatas for Grand Piano Records. Although she plays with integrity and conviction, McLachlan is more imaginative, and perhaps has the technical edge on her as well.