Mieczys ław WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Symphony no.3, op.45 (1949-50/1959) [32:40]
The Golden Key - Suite no.4, op.55d (1954-64) [17:01]
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/Thord Svedlund
rec. Concert Hall, Gothenburg, 19-21 August 2010; 26 August 2009 [Suite sections]. DDD
CHANDOS CHSA 5089 [49:41]
This is the fifth volume in the superb Chandos series, begun in 2003, of Polish composer Mieczysław Weinberg's complete symphonies. Previous instalments have all received a warm reception on this site: see volume 1, volume 2, volume 3 and volume 4. Chandos have also released a disc of concertos - see review. The last two mentioned were, like the present release, recorded by the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra under Thord Svedlund, who put in another commendable performance here.  

This is the first recording of Weinberg's Symphony no.3. Begun in 1949, the symphony was the first of Weinberg's to run into trouble with Andrei Zhdanov's new anti-formalism crusade, the so-called "Zhdanov Doctrine", by which Soviet composers were required, on pain of persecution, to produce music for the people - which meant straightforward works that ideally drew on folk material. The bright, optimistic, almost pastoral first movement of the Third Symphony sets the right tone, enhanced by the inclusion of a Belarusian folksong tune - although the sudden segue into a more ethereal coda adds an element of mystery. Despite Weinberg's efforts, the work in its original form failed to impress the authorities and the Moscow premiere was postponed when the composer 'discovered errors that he wished to correct.' One of the changes he made for the premiere which eventually took place a full decade later was to move the third-movement scherzo to second place. Like a livelier, shorter version of the first movement in character, the scherzo, an Allegro giocoso with a brief Andante interlude, further imitates the first movement with its own folk tune, this time Polish, and an enigmatic coda, condensed and imaginatively orchestrated.
For its first three minutes the third movement sounds like part of a Scandinavian suite for strings, something both orchestra and conductor seem to appreciate here, but from folk-like beginnings the passion soon begins to build, only to finally find release and ultimately tranquillity towards the end. The opening bars of the Allegro vivace final movement shatter that peace with a semi- or more likely pseudo-heroic fanfare, and an immediate launch into a martial theme redolent of those employed by Shostakovich, Prokofiev and numerous other Soviet composers under the watchful eye and ear of Big Brother. Nevertheless, in a movement Weinberg revised heavily, he does his best to subvert his own music with various twists and turns in the second half, which gives a delicious foretaste of his marvellous Fourth and Fifth Symphonies - for more of which see volumes 1 and 2 in this Chandos series.
In 1964 Weinberg extracted four suites from his ballet The Golden Key, which relates the unlikely adventures of Burattino, who leads his fellow puppets in a revolt against the cruel puppet master. Weinberg created the suites on musical grounds with little further regard for the story. The music is consequently varied and fairly light-hearted, despite the occasional grotesquerie of the tale. The music is not unsurprisingly reminiscent of Prokofiev - mainly Cinderella, but also at times Romeo and Juliet and The Tale of the Stone Flower. Yet the seventh movement, 'The Lesson', is pure Shostakovich, who, incidentally, almost got to write a ballet on the story himself in 1943, with only the intervention of typhoid fever causing the idea to be shelved, according to the liner-notes.
The recorded sound on this SACD is very good, without quite being perfect: there is a hint of muddiness to the strings in places, and the odd creak or intake of breath - but nothing of any real consequence. It is a pity that the disc is so short - it is hard to believe that at least another suite from The Golden Key could not have been fitted into the thirty minutes of empty space. On previous volumes Chandos have been much more generous - presumably this is a blip rather than the start of a downward trend! The CD booklet is the usual attractive package from Chandos: glossy pages, discreet photos, full technical information etc., and with decent notes on the works once again by David Fanning.
There is still plenty more to look forward to from Weinberg. An excellent discography of his symphonies by Michael Herman is available on MusicWeb International here. Although its last update was February 2011 at the time of writing, meaning that this first recording of Symphony no.3 is not listed, the discography does show that most of the symphonies, including those for chamber orchestra and the sinfoniettas, have thankfully now been recorded. How many symphonies Weinberg wrote seems at a casual glance to be as variable as the weather - anything from 21 to 27, depending on source. The New Grove Dictionary is usually the most reliable general musicological resource - though it still erroneously gives the composer's first name as "Moisey" - and it lists 21 full symphonies - from no.1, op.10 of 1942 to no.21 op.152 of 1991; with a further 4 chamber symphonies, from no.1, op.145 of 1987 to no.4, op.153 of 1992; and two sinfoniettas - no.1, op.41 of 1948 and no.2, op.74 of 1960. Over to Chandos!  


Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
And a review from Rob Barnett 

This latest CD volume from Chandos makes for another outstanding contribution to their unique survey of Weinberg’s symphonies and pleasure is diffused only slightly by the short playing time. 

The playing by the Gothenburgers is exemplary. This is early Weinberg - at least the Third Symphony is. It's a 30-plus minute, four movement, B minor piece written in 1950 and revised in 1959. The first movement sports a tickling forward-pressing motif. This is clothed sweetly, at first, but the atmosphere becomes gradually more determined and warlike-heroic with a sideways glance at Shostakovich's Leningrad. It's extremely exciting and might be thought of as comparable to the first symphonies of Sviridov and Dvarionas among others. It is not as belligerent as these other examples; certainly the sweet oboe pastoral (I 6:20) is far more gentle than anything found in those other works. Something of dancing snowflakes in this but also of warm pine forests. A chill sets in towards the end of the movement. There's a playful sprinting and flittering allegro giocoso and this can be contrasted with a potently sustained and meditative gloom. There’s tenderness in the Adagio (III) which is almost as long as the first movement. The clarinet solos have a plangently woody bubble and the theme seems a byway off the Volga Boatmen’s Song. This ends in a becalmed murmur from the strings. The finale returns to the implacably sturdy fast-pulsed mood of the heroic first movement. This is a splendidly rich recording with a nice throaty roar to the brass.
This revised version of the Symphony was premiered by Aleksandr Gauk conducting the All-Union Radio and TV Symphony Orchestra in Moscow on 23 March 1960.
The Golden Key was a ballet written in 1954-55 to a fairy fable scenario by Aleksey Tolstoy (1882-1945). In this format the music was premiered on 10 June 1962. Two years later Weinberg extracted for suites of which this is the last. The music is full of Petrushkan character, gawky, winningly elegiac (tr. 6 with its oboe singer), impudently Respighian (tr. 7) and ruthlessly driven (The Rat). The final Pursuit movement combines iterative obsessional onrush with an innocence absent from the assaults of the Symphony’s first and final movements
Every part of this production shouts quality. The notes are by David Fanning whose knowledge of the music and the era must be second to none. Svedlund knows the Weinberg works well having already recorded many of them so he is a reliable and inspired guide
If you enjoy Russian music of the mid and first half of the last century then you need to hear this. It's by no means garish poster material and its depth and accessible grip may surprise.
Rob Barnett
If you enjoy Russian music of the mid and first half of the last century then you need to hear this. It's by no means garish poster material; its depth and accessible grip may surprise.