The third evening of the Weinberg 100 Festival took place in the Salzburg Synagogue. In one sense, this was an appropriate venue for music by someone whose tragic life was defined by his Jewish identity: the Nazis murdered Moishe Weinberg‘s family, the Soviets murdered his wife’s family, he was purged, and although he was saved through the intervention of Dmitri Schostakowitsch his music was suppressed in the Soviet Union and virtually unknown outside it – all because he was Jewish. On the other hand, it is Shabbat, and attending a concert in an active synagogue on Shabbat just felt a bit odd (there are no Friday evening services in Salzburg, and never a minyan for Saturday morning, and maybe 30 or so Jews in the entire city none of whom is particularly religious, but it’s still an active synagogue).
Tonight’s concert of music by featured two quartets masterfully performed by the Stadler Quartet, sandwiching a trio for flute, viola, and harp. Quartet #8 opened the evening – the same one the Stadler Quartet had included in a concert this past February. It began by piercing the soul with tragedy, moved on into some almost-klezmer inspired humor, which it then deconstructed. The different lines moved along and returned in new places, intersecting each other. Listening to Weinberg’s music requires intellectual gymnastics and an innate Jewish ability to combine humor with tragedy.
The Quartet #4 closed the evening. Written in the closing months of the Second World War, Weinberg gave it a wartime program, depicting the approach of war, invasion, mourning, and ultimately happy memories of childhood and hope for a better future. Schostakowitsch, who had in 1943 succeeded in bringing Weinberg from his exile in Tashkent to Moscow and had become the younger composer’s mentor, clearly inspired this war quartet. But Weinberg gave it perhaps more devastation than even Schostakowitsch managed in his music (even considering that Schostakowitsch also had his snarky humor – Weinberg’s humor wasn’t snarky, through, it was more a coping mechanism to survive). The Stadler Quartet experienced a little hiccup in the first movement, but by the time we got all the way through to the end of the piece it was forgotten.
In between the two quartets, Vera Klug (flute), Sarah Maria Dragovic (viola), and Ingeborg Weber (harp) performed the bizarre trio – composed much later, in 1979. It partly struck me as having the same problematic as the quartet #12 that the Stadler Quartet played last night, which showed too much influence from lesser composers. According to the introduction this evening, Weinberg drew inspiration for the opening of the trio from Debussy, and that may indeed be the explanation. It was thankfully not as bad as anything by Debussy, but it was also not a substantial work, until the third movement. The third movement clearly owed its inspiration to Mahler. But Weinberg’s music is best when he charts his own course, and I am also not sure that with this particular three-instrument combination there is even much of a course to chart. That said, Dragovic and Weber were quite good and facile with the difficult score. Klug, on the flute, did not have a pleasant tone.