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Mieczyslaw WEINBERG (Moise VAINBERG) (1919-1996)
Symphony No. 5 Op. 76 (1962) [45.32]
Sinfonietta No. 1 Op. 41 (1948) [22.08]
National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Katowice/Gabriel Chmura
rec. Grzegorz Fitelberg Concert Hall, Katowice, Poland, 3-7 March 2003. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 10128 [67.51]

Mieczslaw Weinberg (more frequently seen in the Russian variant as Moise Vainberg - or ‘Vaynberg’ if you look at the 1980 New Grove) was born in Warsaw, the son of a violinist and composer working in the Polish theatre. In 1941, a fateful year, he moved to the USSR, at first to Minsk, then to Tashkent. His First Symphony resulted in an invitation to Moscow by Shostakovich. The two became close and had a relationship of mutual trust and friendship under which they shared views on draft compositions and supported each other through the most testing of times. Vainberg was in fatal peril in 1953 when his name became linked with a campaign to make a Jewish state out of the Crimea. Shostakovich's intervention saved him from the gulags or a bullet in the back of the head.

The Fifth Symphony has not previously been recorded. The work emerged in 1962 influenced by the first performance, after a long suppression, of Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony. It is dedicated to Kondrashin, a lifelong Vainberg champion, who conducted the premiere of the Shostakovich work and recorded it for Melodiya shortly afterwards. Alistair Wightman comments, in his notes, on the similarities between the music of Shostakovich and Vainberg. The four movement Symphony is indeed bleak, has its moments of soured triumph threaded through with disillusion. There is a beleaguered comfort about the fine tenderly plangent adagio sostenuto which is I think more powerful than anything in Shostakovich 4. It bridges across to the tense adagios of the Roy Harris symphonies of the 1930s and 1940s. Tension bursts the bonds at 9.01 when the tender theme thrusts forward with all the torque of a supercharged spiritual; impressive by anyone's reckoning. The impishly playful flute and then other solo wind instruments seem to dance in macabre delicacy in the shortish allegro. This soon takes on a distinctly Shostakovichian edginess and dazzle before restively petering out into silence from which emerges attacca a pastoral finale. This becomes increasingly impassioned in the raucous style of Markevitch and Mossolov at one point (5.54). All in all this is a deeply serious symphony which hardly ever drops its guard.

There are twenty two symphonies, two sinfoniettas, seventeen string quartets, seven operas and much else. The First of the two Sinfoniettas is included. It is in four compact movements. Scorchingly knockabout uproar, steppe pomp, Armenian lyricism (tr.6 1.56) and Yiddish character (e.g. the clarinet solo in the allegretto) are the order of the day. Both material and treatment are more instantly accessible than in the much later symphony. Surprisingly the French Horn solo that initiates the Lento is played with all the liquid Slavonic style we have come to expect from the heyday of Soviet orchestras under Mravinsky, Ivanov and Golovanov.

Olympia have done a superb job of making many hours of Vainberg available. I rather hope that Chandos will think of filling the gaps left in the symphony cycle by Olympia rather than duplicating their work.

Due to the work of Claves, Russian Disc and Olympia there is now or has been quite a lot of Vainberg in the catalogue although so much of it depends on Olympia. Chandos are set to make a major and enduring contribution if this disc is anything to go by. Don't let this one slip into the background and don’t imagine that Vainberg is some second league Shostakovich. He has his own perspective and his motivating sharpness, invective, Russian passion and desolation are distinctively his own.

A classic entry. Don't miss it if you have a taste for tragic symphonic statements.

Rob Barnett

Many thanks to my good friend Jacques Kleyn for pointing out that the Chandos CD of Weinberg's Fifth Symphony is NOT its first appearance on CD. The Symphony No. 5 and the Trumpet Concerto were recorded on Russian Disc in performances conducted by Kirill Kondrashin. Now those are performances I would also like to hear. RB


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