Mieczysław WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes, op.47 no.1 (1949) [13:17]
Symphony No. 6, op.79 (1963) [47:45]
Glinka Choral College Boys' Choir/Vasily Grachev
St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Lande
rec. St Catherine Lutheran Church, St Petersburg, 17-26 December 2010. DDD
NAXOS 8.572779 [61:01]
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 stable.
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, 610).
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 Lande.
Naxos regular Richard Whitehouse's notes are informative and well written.
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This must be the new first choice for Weinberg 6.