It has become fashionable of late for critics to write of a
Mieczysław Weinberg 'revival'. A widespread, though
still not universal, realisation that the party line - that
Weinberg is a pale imitation of Shostakovich - does not in fact
stand up to scrutiny, may well explain this new state of affairs.
Nowadays there are enough recordings of his music available
to allow for an informed, rather than reflex, judgement.
For a change, Naxos have entered the game rather late - this
is in fact their first recording of a Weinberg symphony. The
composer was conspicuous by his absence even from the, in many
respects, trail-blazing Marco Polo range, now part of the Naxos
Once up to speed, though, Naxos move fast: at the time of writing
(November 2012) a follow-up to the present disc has already
been released, with Lande and the St Petersburg State Symphony
Orchestra (SPSSO) returning with Symphony no.19 (8.572752).
Similarly, after Naxos released a CD of Weinberg's Cello Sonatas
in 2010 (8.570333), two more have quickly followed, including
- curiously - an immediate second recording of the First and
Second Sonatas for solo cello (8.572280, 8.572281). Furthermore,
three volumes of what is being billed as Weinberg's 'complete'
piano music have now appeared on HNH/Naxos's new Grand Piano
label, performed by Allison Brewster Franzetti (GP 603, 607,
Chandos began their own Weinberg symphony edition a decade ago
now, the first three recorded by National Polish Radio Symphony
Orchestra Katowice (NPRSOK) under Gabriel Chmura, the last three
by the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra under Thord Svedlund (review).
The latest was released earlier this year (CHSA
5107). All volumes have been very well received. Naxos have
the price advantage - typically 50% cheaper - but many of the
Chandos discs are in Super Audio quality.
As far as the present recording is concerned, the Naxos blurb
describes the Sixth Symphony in rather immoderate terms as "a
work of huge expression, anguished and dynamic, encompassing
lament, circus gallops, burlesque, and a cataclysmic and heartrending
slow movement." In fact, the mood throughout is one of elegiac
introspection and no little hope, even when, as in the fourth
movement, the charged setting is one of a graveyard for murdered
Jewish children. There is certainly nothing even remotely 'cataclysmic'
expressed anywhere in the music, and any heartrending is inherent
in the texts - which are in Russian only, and in any case not
included - rather than overtly expressed.
A long, slow first movement is followed by an allegretto - and
a first appearance of the boys' choir - that still moves along
at an amble. Weinberg alludes many times to his mentor and friend
Shostakovich, although many will be reminded of Mahler. The
final two movements, both again with boys' voices, are marked
'largo' and 'andantino'. Only the central movement really deviates
from this unhurried pattern - a very lively folk-inflected scherzo
that vaguely recalls Khachaturian's famous 'Sabre Dance' whilst
quoting from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring!
One thing is clear in any case: this is not like any symphony
of Shostakovich's. Weinberg sounds like Weinberg. Perhaps surprisingly,
given the fact that around half a dozen of his Symphonies have
still not been commercially recorded, the Sixth has been done
at least five times, most recently by Vladimir Fedoseyev and
the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and Singverein (NEOS
SACD 11125, part of their truncated 'Weinberg Edition').
Taking into consideration audio quality and the presence of
a splendid native-Russian choir, this Naxos recording must be
the new first choice. What a pity that the all-important poems
have not been provided, leaving full comprehension of Weinberg's
artistic intentions open only to those with a knowledge of Russian.
Naxos should seriously consider rectifying this via their website.
The SPSSO take the catchy Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes
that opens the disc at a more leisurely pace than the NPRSOK
under Chmura - well over a minute slower. The main difference
between the two, however, is the way in which Lande - or this
recording, or both - tends to de-emphasise the timpani and brass
in favour of the strings. As a result, the Chandos recording
sounds a little more visceral, although in the final abandoned
dance there is little to choose between the two readings. Ditto
the orchestras - the SPSSO are quite at home in these works,
especially when so convincingly conducted by the under-rated
Naxos regular Richard Whitehouse's notes are informative and
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