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Mieczysław WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Symphony no. 8, Polish Flowers, op.83 (1964)
Rafał Bartmiński (tenor); Magdalena Dobrowolska (soprano); Ewa Marciniec (alto)
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir/Antoni Wit
rec. Philharmonic Hall, Warsaw, Poland, 13-16 June 2011. DDD
NAXOS 8.572873 [58:32] 

Experience Classicsonline

This latest Naxos release is the third in less than a year dedicated to the symphonies of Mieczysław Weinberg. The first two excellent recordings were made by Vladimir Lande with the St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra - see review of volume 1; volume 2 (8.572752) comprises Symphony No. 19 and Banners of Peace. By contrast, the Weinberg symphony edition from Chandos was begun a full decade ago, and is now seven entries strong. The first three were recorded by another Polish ensemble, the National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra Katowice under Gabriel Chmura, and the latest four by the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra under Thord Svedlund.
Whether Chandos or Naxos, all discs to date have been very well received, both in terms of performances and with regard to Weinberg's thrillingly original music. Naxos have the price advantage - typically 50% cheaper - but many of the Chandos discs are in Super Audio quality. In fact, Naxos founder Klaus Heymann has said that the two labels are effectively sharing the workload initially, heading towards a bipartisan recording of Weinberg's complete symphonies - of which there are, incidentally, 21 complete, plus one unfinished fragment (no.22), four chamber symphonies and two sinfoniettas.
For a long time it was a critical shibboleth that Weinberg's symphonic music was a pale imitation of Shostakovich's, especially as Weinberg was always the more conservative. He is perhaps more reminiscent of the older Prokofiev in fact, and as a consequence his Symphonies tend to be more lyrical, less strident, more immediately audience-friendly than those by Shostakovich. In the Eighth Weinberg often brings Orff and Stravinsky to mind, both in terms of orchestral colouring and the way voices are employed.
For those who have missed previous discs, this one is not, on balance, the ideal place to start a discovery of the symphonies - in some respects, the Eighth is not even a symphony, but more of a cantata. The ten movements (in fact, the booklet notes mention twelve, but then proceed to describe only the ten that are separately tracked) are all songs, with very few passages of purely orchestral music - the first of any note comes towards the end of section VI. Indeed, the instrumental scoring, though always evocative, is often neo-classically restrained and subtle, allowing the singers to be clearly heard at all times.
Though not necessarily convincing as a symphony, Polish Flowers is an expressive, melodic work of considerable elegance and power, its climax tantalisingly hopeful. The Polish Flowers subtitle comes from a set of poems by leading Polish writer Julian Tuwim (1894-1953), from whom Weinberg borrows the texts. In his cycle Tuwim considers, appropriately, Poland's "troubled past and ominous future".
Incidentally, Naxos's foreign rendition of the title, 'Tveti Pol'shi' is an oddity. Tuwim's original Polish is 'Kwiaty Polskie', which is 'Polish Flowers' in Polish. The Naxos version is in fact a poorly transliterated rendition of the Russian for 'flowers of Poland', the first part of which should be 'tsveti' or, better still, 'tsvieti'. The texts can be downloaded from the Naxos website. Strangely, there is no translation provided from the Polish into English or indeed any other language, so they are likely to be of limited usefulness to general audiences. Tuwim's texts are mysteriously marked as Naxos copyright.
Regardless, the three vocal soloists and the choir are very impressive. Naxos old hand Antoni Wit keeps everyone and everything together masterfully. Sound quality is worthy of the performances. Notes by series annotator Richard Whitehouse give all the necessary details in clear, informative language. In almost every regard, in fact, this is a prize-winning premiere recording. One minor complaint is the sub-hour running time: a purely instrumental work for orchestra, of which Weinberg wrote many, would have added to the listener's appreciation.
Some of Weinberg's chamber music has also recently become available on Naxos - three volumes of cello sonatas (8.570333, 8.572280, 8.572281). Furthermore, four volumes of what is being billed as Weinberg's complete piano music have now been issued on HNH/Naxos's Grand Piano label, performed by Allison Brewster Franzetti (GP 603, 607, 610, 611).
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