This release is the first of a seven-disc traversal of Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s 17 string quartets. It’s an ambitious project, and one that’s off to a good start.
The Silesian Quartet pairs two chamber works by Weinberg: his 1959 String Quartet No. 7 and his youthful Piano Quintet in F minor. Both provided catharsis for the composer, which can make their emotional power almost overwhelming.
Weinberg completed the piano quintet when he was 20. He had left his native Poland, just barely escaping the Nazis. His immediate family was not as fortunate — they perished in the Holocaust.
The quintet has an undercurrent of sorrow, punctuated by outbursts of rage. And yet all tightly contained in a meticulously organized score. No wonder Shostakovich saw something of himself in Weinberg.
The seventh string quartet of 1959 marked the first time Weinberg returned to the genre after being jailed for “formalistic and cosmopolitan” tendencies. Shostakovich’s intervention eventually secured his release and possibly saved his life.
The quartet has a superficial attractiveness to it, but — like late Shostakovich — there’s a strong undercurrent of resistance in the work. Albeit, it’s buried very, very deep — but the Silesian Quartet bring it closer to the surface. The result is a performance full of vitality and restless energy.
The quartet has a steely tone, well in keeping with the music. These are performances that connect — both with the emotional state of the composer and with the listener. While Shostakovich and Weinberg were kindred spirits, Weinberg’s music is not just an imitation of his mentor. Weinberg has a unique compositional voice that manages to punch through the restrictions placed on it by Soviet doctrine.
Mieczyslaw Weinberg: String Quartet No. 7, Op. 59; Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 18
Silesian Quartet; Piotr Salajczyk, piano
CD Accord ACD 239-2