Kurt WEILL (1900-1950)
Symphony No. 1 (1921) [25:46]
Kleine Dreigroschenmusik für Blasorchester - Suite aus der "Dreigroschenoper" (1928) [21:37]
Symphony No. 2 (1933-34) [26:31]
The Gulbenkian Orchestra/Michel Swierczewski
rec. Lisbon, Portugal, 16-19 July1990 DDD
NIMBUS NI 5283 [74:13]
This disc was reviewed favorably on the website by Rob Barnett, where he provided some discographic history on recordings of the symphonies. As David Gutman points out in his notes in the CD booklet, Kurt Weill is still considered primarily as a theater composer — something that Weill would likely have viewed himself. His concert works are rarely performed in comparison, though the recording industry has been kinder to him in this regard. Works of this type that have received multiple recordings include both the Symphony No. 2 and the Violin Concerto, but neither of these is held in as high an esteem as his Threepenny Opera (Dreigroschenoper) or Mahagonny. Weill’s First Symphony was a student composition in one movement and shows considerable promise. It had been lost and only surfaced in the 1950s when his widow Lotte Lenya placed advertisements in the newspapers. Swierczewski makes a good case for this dramatic, if rather episodic, work, though I prefer by a narrow margin Marin Alsop’s tauter account with the Bournemouth Symphony on Naxos whose drier, brighter recording allows more detail to tell. Still, the performance and recording here are also very good.
The Symphony No. 2 unlike its predecessor was premiered in Amsterdam by the Concertgebouw under Bruno Walter soon after Weill completed it and it was repeated in New York the same year. Yet, since that time it languished until the 1980s when it finally gained a toehold in the repertoire. It is a much more accomplished and attractive work than the First Symphony and is in three movements: fast, slow, fast. It has received a number of distinguished recordings, including one by the Berlin Philharmonic and Mariss Jansons on EMI. That one may be classier than Swierczewski's but I don't find it as well characterized as either his or Alsop's. For example, listen to the trombone solo in the second movement Largo at 1:40 in the present recording, which is as eloquent as one could wish. On the other hand, the clarinetist at 3:28 in the finale goes a bit over the top, pushing the tone out of tune and making it sour. Alsop is perfect there, while Jansons is rather underwhelming. Given a choice, I would still take Alsop's incisive account as my pick both for performance and interpretation. Others may feel differently.
Separating the two symphonies is some of Weill's most familiar music taken from his hit Threepenny Opera. It was the distinguished conductor Otto Klemperer who commissioned Weill to make a suite for winds from the theater work. The Suite presented here has taken on a life of its own and has provided wind ensembles with some of the most delicious music of the composer. More than the two symphonies, the Kleine Dreigroschenmusik with its jazz rhythms, and use of such "popular" instruments as saxophone, banjo, and guitar, shows the side of the composer that is unique and that will forever remain in one's mind as being "Weill". This includes "Mack, the Knife", but much else besides. Swierczewski and his Gulbenkian instrumentalists capture the infectious spirit of this music very well as do the more polished London Sinfonietta and David Atherton on a DG two-disc compilation of Kurt Weill's music.
This disc should suit anyone wanting this particular combination of works even if I prefer other recordings such as those I referred to above. David Gutman's succinct notes on the works are an added bonus.
Good accounts of Weill's symphonies and a fine Threepenny Opera suite.