Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s parents and sister died in a concentration camp, his Yiddish-language actor father-in-law was killed on Stalin’s orders and the Polish-born composer himself was imprisoned by the KGB and only released after Stalin’s death.
His moving Holocaust opera “The Passenger”, which revolves around a former camp guard who recognises a former inmate on an ocean liner decades later, was not performed until four years after his death in 1996.
Even a close friendship with Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich seems to have worked against him, prompting critics to look at him as a lesser version of the Russian master.
“If you read about his life and his biography, the impression that comes to mind is ‘How much can one person actually take?’,” German violinist Linus Roth asked in an interview with Reuters.
Roth, a protege of German violin superstar Anne-Sophie Mutter in his mid-30s, has become a leading advocate for Weinberg’s music with the release this year of the first recording of all six of his violin sonatas on the Challenge Classics label.
Championing the work of a little-known composer who fled from Poland to Russia to escape the Nazis and was denounced there as a “cosmopolitan” who wanted to create a breakaway Jewish state is an interesting career move for Roth.
FORGOTTEN AND FIRST-RATE
“Often these forgotten composers are forgotten because somehow they are mediocre or second-rate,” Roth said at a London coffee shop, keeping a discreet watch on the case containing the Stradivarius he uses to play Weinberg’s haunting melodies, often tinged with a hint of Jewish traditional music.
“But this composer was forgotten and first-rate - it’s really quite extraordinary.”