Murray McLachlan’s Olympia recordings of Weinberg’s solo piano music have been reissued on Divine Art. This volume, the ninth of the Russian Piano Music series, in which Weinberg’s is placed, contains his first three sonatas and the Easy Pieces cycle. All the works were written between 1940 and 1946.
The First sonata of 1940 was written when Weinberg was 21. It opens with a startling bell cluster but from then the music subsides to extreme refinement and delicacy for much of the next seven minutes: this movement lasts almost as long as the succeeding three. They are variously an exciting Allegretto , a taut Andantino and a finale that becomes increasingly dramatic and extroverted. The Second sonata (1942) was premiered by Emil Gilels who had also played the earlier work as well. The opening Allegro of this Second sonata sounds uncannily like a near cousin of the finale of No.1 in its explosive energy levels. It’s followed by one of Weinberg’s characteristic drily witty cum wintry Allegrettos . The slow movement twists its way harmonically, even ruggedly at points, whilst the finale quotes from Haydn’s Symphony No.88, the first Allegro in fact.
The Third sonata is a more powerfully wide ranging work than its two predecessors. It has a quasi-improvisational quality and a folk-inspired slow movement theme and variations that are appealing and textually attractive. Much is largely melancholy and withdrawn, but much is also beautiful. There’s a three-part fugue to finish the sonata. Finally the 17 Easy Pieces, Op.24 which are not quite the pedagogic beginner’s material that they might at first seem. In fact several require a strong technique to do justice to these mood or character pieces. They certainly met the insatiable demand for such material in the Soviet Union extremely well.
The acoustic in Ensemble Hall, in Gothenburg University’s Music Department is a touch dry but does little to obscure McLachlan’s thoroughly idiomatic and assured playing.