In a time when armed conflict seems on the rise and diplomatic solutions to the travesties committed by power-hungry leaders of every race, religion and belief, the world clings to the hope that wiser minds will prevail and the “Deep Pits, Crimson Clay” for the slaughtered will fade to black. No better time, then, for ARC Ensemble to release an album dedicated to the Polish-born, (eventually forced to the Soviet Union by the Nazis) Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s works, completed near the end of the “Great Patriotic War.” The composer’s angst and rage at senseless human suffering permeates this music.
Clarinetist Joaquin Valdepeñas’ fluid legato paints the long lines of the Sonata with bittersweet ease. Hints of the innocence of children in the “Allegro’s” closing measures, replete with “Jingle Bells” accompaniment make the poignant point, but Weinberg can’t purge himself of the tiresome habit of equating hope with a conversion to the major. Intriguingly, the “Allegretto” incongruously “anticipates” Poulenc’s Sonata for Clarinet even as Beethoven’s “Appassionata” echoes in the “Adagio’s” opening measures. Dianne Werner’s sympathetic approach comes across well with the clarinet, but in the ensuing songs the balance improves yet the keyboard’s bass is slightly muffled—perhaps indicating the change of venue, but more likely a vagary of microphone placement. The consonant-laden text of the six Jewish songs is rendered with skill and authority by Richard Margison. Unforgettable is his falsetto-start to “New Year’s Song” (where the piano’s closing contrary motion seems at one with “that will not be.” Further irony abounds in “To the Warrior,” which concludes (in militaristic brainwashing best) that “There is no other way.”
The extended Piano Quintet confirms that Weinberg is at a loss when trying to develop his ideas. The music ends, rather than concludes. Yet the “Presto,” with its marvellous “Valse Macabre”—loaded with too-brittle pizzicato and an ounce of Johann Strauss—belongs in any music lover’s collection. David Louie provides a dazzling array of technical prowess (often keeping his frenetic colleagues together) and incredible control (At last: repeated notes in diminuendo where every one is actually softer than its predecessor!). The violins generally overshadow their darker cousins (Steven Dann’s few solo interventions are always first-rate) and the speedier bits fly but never settle. The overly-long “Largo” needs an editor and greater understanding by Weinberg of just what five artists can craft together. The “Allegro agitato” more than lives up to its name. JWR