MIECZYSLAW WEINBERG – String Quartet No. 6

Mieczyslaw Weinberg aka Moishei Vainberg [1919-1996] was born in Poland, and was a friend of Dmitri Shostakovich. In 1939 he moved to Russia, leaving his family behind. All were killed in the Holocaust but for his father, who was was shot under the direct orders of Stalin in 1948.  Weinberg composed 17 string quartets and 26 symphonies. Most of the quartets are still available.

I am going to discuss one disc, The Complete String Quartets, Volume 3.

SQ No. 6, which was written in 1945, has six movements. It starts with a simple folk-like melody and accompaniment. The melody sounds familiar to me, which suggests it may have been a folk tune that has turned up in other quartets. This is followed by a prolonged passage of violin and viola. The mood changes as the cello is introduced, becoming more incisive; there is some wonderful writing for the first violin here. The piece moves into a more Modern mood as it progresses, leading into some agitated passages, although these are still quite musical and listenable. It then segues into a sparse, delightful section which features the cello prominently before ending in a gentle fashion.

The second movement, which is very short, begins in an insistent manner. The composer gnaws at the music like a dog with a bone. He establishes a slightly frantic mood and carries it to the end. Phew! The third movement, which is even shorter (1:52), is quite bleak and daunting. Enough said.

The next movement, which is marked adagio, returns to this world with a solemn lone violin introduction. The other players enter slowly, bringing with them a touch of optimism. After a time, the piece progresses to a bewitching mood at low volume which takes you out of this world again and into the abstract. This leads to a simply stunning conclusion.

Movement five is very captivating. The violin sets up a motif and regularly refers to it as the other instruments change the dynamics as they please. There are many wonderful moments here.

The sixth, and final movement, begins with tension in the air. The harmonic environment is a sense of descending chords while the first violin prevails. It soon moves into a tempo and the cello seems determined to dominate for a while in an alluring slow passage. The tension returns for an extended period and it ends in the way that it began, with a slightly frantic feeling.

I shall refer briefly to the other pieces on the CD.

SQ No. 8 is a one-movement work. The first section has a brooding mood with the violin and cello in play. The piece moves through several interesting changes of style and tempo. Very enjoyable.

SQ No. 15 has nine movements (many of them quite short!) Mostly it is contemplative, but it does have several movements which make you hang onto your seat.

Sixteen of Weinberg’s SQs are available on six CDs by Quator Danel. I have discussed Volume 3. There are three discs of this series on Spotify. I don’t believe that any other versions are available.

There are many Weinberg quartets on youtube.

Listenability: Mildly Modernist with some extremely lyrical passages.

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