WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 1; Piano Sonata No. 2; Piano Sonata No. 3; 17 Easy Pieces; Vol. 13: Piano Sonatas No. 4; Piano Sonata No. 5; Piano Sonata No. 6
PERFORMER: Murray McLachlan (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: OCD 595, 596
It is hardly surprising that the six piano sonatas of Moishei Vainberg should be predominantly dark in mood: the first was composed in 1940, shortly after Vainberg had fled Nazi-occupied Poland for the Soviet Union. Although Shostakovich was to become his unofficial guiding light, the giant opening discords and bare lament of its opening movement have a real individuality, while the surprising correspondences with Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata in the motor-driven finale are purely coincidental – Vainberg could not have know that Prokofiev was working on this first of his so-called ‘war’ sonatas at the time.
Vainberg goes on to lodge dense arguments in seemingly innocuous, often neo-classical contexts: he was, according to Per Skans’s informative notes, a remarkable pianist himself and even heavyweight Murray McLachlan sometimes strains for all the notes in the weightiest developments. He certainly captures the elegiac mood of the Third Sonata – which could have been Vainberg’s last, had Stalin lived to put into gear a second Holocaust. Thankfully Vainberg emerged from prison to give the Jewish folk element so subtly present in the earlier works its due in the finale of the Fourth Sonata. As McLachlan self-effacingly shows, the last two sonatas have an impressive austerity, Shostakovich-style: on this evidence, though, it is the Third and Fourth which deserve a central place in the 20th-century piano repertoire. David Nice