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Mieczyslaw VAINBERG
(Moisey Samuilovich VAINBERG) (1919-1996)

Chamber Symphony No 1 Op.145 (1986) [22.18]
Chamber Symphony No.3 Op.151 [27.55]
Chamber Symphony No.4 Op.153 + (1992) [28.44]
Eugeny Petrov (clarinet) +
Chamber Orchestra Kremlin/Misha Rachlevsky
Recorded at Mosfilm Studios, Moscow, November 1997
CLAVES CD 50-9811 [79.08]


Written over the last decade of his life the Four Chamber Symphonies don’t differ very much from Vainberg’s conventional symphonic statements. That said the Fourth is an oddity inasmuch as it includes a concertante role for the clarinet. The earliest of them bears a more than striking procedural similarity with Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony. In the earlier work’s Allegro opening - with its four solid classical movements – we can hear the Prokofiev influence allied to a slight whiff of Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro in its exhilarating drive. The string writing is athletic and attractive with glancing Shostakovich affiliations, not least in the gracefulness and freely moving simplicity of the Andante. There are moments of shadow; the violins’ unease at the start of the Allegretto for instance which is otherwise ostensibly untroubled, and that brings with it a certain strain, a sense of unresolved tension – tangential and quizzically intense. The gutsy, clearly neo-classical Presto finale is lit with skittering lines. Alluding to Prokofiev but also with its own distinctive brand of sometimes brusque pugnacity.

The Third Chamber Symphony is a more expansive work than the First. It’s nevertheless taut and opens with quiet dynamics and a Shostakovitch influenced intensity replete with ambiguous direction. Though the dynamics grow more emphatic the sense of melancholic intensity remains unchanged. These are never quite dispelled by a fast second movement that turns fiery amidst all its more frolicsome moments and they are indeed heightened and refracted by the core of the work, an Adagio of unremitting power. We reach back to the chamber symphony’s opening here but now the material is more direct, more obviously expressive and unsettled and exuding a powerful introversion. After which Vainberg leaves us with an Andantino full of baroque inflexions that act as a kind of quasi-hymnal balm on the stressful material that still seeps into the movement. The older procedures seem, in emotional terms, if one talk of such a thing in this work, to act as succour and there’s a sense of true resolution at the close.

The Fourth in the series was completed in 1992, four years before Vainberg’s death. The role of the clarinet is somewhat puzzling; I referred to it earlier as a kind of concertante part but that’s not quite it though it covers much of the primus inter pares position. And yet when there’s a cadenza in the allegro-moderato section of this one movement work (split though into four clear parts) it’s for the cello, not the clarinet. There are sardonic lines for the strings and in the Adagio we are reminded strongly of the currents that ran throughout the similar movement in the earlier work. Vainberg also mines a rather bizarre form of folk tunes – specifically Jewish, in which role the clarinet is certainly well suited - which he contrasts against a leisurely-cum-intense string cushion. The juxtapositions are only heightened by his concluding baroque cadences.

The recording and the performances are first class. Gestures are not overdone; a reasonable and responsible rein is kept on the more quixotic aspects of scoring, instrumentation and direction. Rachlevsky is a worthy ambassador for this trio of chamber symphonies, whose idiosyncrasy of utterance and depth of feeling are worth getting to know.

Jonathan Woolf

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