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Mieczys ław 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. Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, Warsaw, Poland, 13-16 June 2011. DDD
World première recording
The Polish sung texts can be accessed at the Naxos website.
Detailed track-list at end of review
NAXOS 8.572873 [58:32]

Experience Classicsonline

The fortunes of Weinberg’s music have hit a sustained upbeat and there’s no sign of any downturn. This Naxos disc is part of the positive picture and the third from that label to tackle the symphonies. The others are from the St. Petersburg State Symphony under Vladimir Lande: Symphony No. 19 and The Banners of Peace 8.572752 and Symphony No. 6 and Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes 8.572779. These complement the long-running elite Chandos series, some of which have been on hybrid SACDs. There are 26 Weinberg symphonies so a collegiate effort should produce a complete cycle earlier. Bear in mind that entries from the two big players have to be read with the early ex-Melodiya discs from long-gone Olympia. The latter now fetch forbidding prices if you can find the discs at all. More accessible are current issues from Neos, Northern Flowers and Melodiya itself.
Weinberg’s life story has been recounted in outline often enough so I will just mention that he studied composition with Vasily Zolotaryov and laid the foundation for a life-long connection with Shostakovich when he impressed the older composer with his First Symphony. He lived in Moscow from 1943. During the 1960s Weinberg wrote seven symphonies among which choral symphonies (nos. 6, 8 and 9) were a significant presence.
The Symphony No. 8, entitled Polish Flowers, is a complex ten-movement work for tenor, soprano, alto, mixed choir and orchestra. A quick, dirty and essentially unfair summary would have you expecting Shostakovich but without the abrasive corners and corrosive surfaces; not that it is bland. It dates from a decade when song-symphonies and anthology settings were the rage in some quarters. Weinberg in fact sets a poetic cycle by one poet: Julian Tuwim (1894-1953). Britten’s Spring Symphony is one example and the Weinberg prompts the drawing of style parallels with Shostakovich himself associated with Britten. His symphonies with voices - nos. 13 and 14 - were written at the beginning and the end of the 1960s. Weinberg writes resourcefully and with affecting beauty and edginess. It’s a cliché as an observation but true here that the composer rarely uses his specified forces in their monstrous totality. The palette is expansive but it is mostly applied with delicacy rather than with a sledgehammer swing and crunch.
I could not get the Naxos link to the original sung Polish text to work.
The first movement, Gust of Spring is reflectively summery. Female voices sound out quietly over tolling lower strings and percussion. The second movement, Children of Bałuty, is full of pointed life for the women’s voices over a string pizzicato. The imploring tenor Rafał Bartmiński is lean, sweet and steady of voice. The dance idea, here carried by solo and choir, has a real Shostakovich tang. In Front of the Old Hut again features Bartmiński, this time against nostalgic woodwind pipings. The avian murmur of woodwind and violin solo in There was an Orchard is the accompaniment to the poet’s examination of Polish poverty but ends in slamming drums and angry trombone-dominated brass. Hatred is on the march. The sixth movement will remind you of Shostakovich. We return to the swinging dance patterns of the second movement for chorus and orchestra with wailing merciless energy. It ends with quiet brass groans and a masterful side-drum stutter. The seventh movement, Warsaw Dogs, is a precipitous fury of a piece with bright percussion much in evidence. A fortissimo shudder bows us out and moves directly into the eighth movement, Mother. Again Bartmiński proves a balm-ministering presence over the crooning of the choir. The writing reminded me of the bleak-sweet baritone writing in Sibelius’s Kullervo. As the liner note says: “The ninth movement, Justice, contrasts the collapse of Nazi rule with a promise of freedom and equality in the wake of the Soviet victory.” Confidently protesting massed voices call out the message. The same note tells us that this music owes its ideas to Weinberg’s 1958 song-cycle Reminiscences. The movement ends with a massive chord like the slammed hammer-blows in Kullervo. This makes way for the tenth movement, The Vistula flows. The river Vistula is here taken as emblematic of the indestructible Polish spirit. The honeyed tenor - central to this work - sets the consolatory caramel tone for the entry by the choir. Episodes along the way in this long movement include a caressing violin solo, deep shudders from the double basses, a clarinet piping amid desolation and punctuating percussion. The tenor returns but now with more passion. The music traces its way to a loudly indomitable epiphany and a descent into understated musing and hard-won healing.
The Eighth Symphony, here tracked in ten movements, was premiered in Moscow on 6 March 1966 by Alexander Yurlov with the Russian Academic Choir and the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra.
It’s a pity that the words and translation are not there in the booklet, however the notes by Richard Whitehouse helpfully take us through each poem in English. The sung texts are heard in the original Polish.
This sensational recording was produced, engineered and edited by Andrzej Sasin and Aleksandra Nagórko of the Polish label CD Accord.
Another major entry in the Weinberg catalogue. The picture continues to emerge and with each instalment we can start forming our own appraisal of this music and the man behind it. Certainly multi-faceted, very humane and un-attracted by fashionable modernism, here is a composer who still sees and acts on the impulse to communicate with audiences beyond academe, beyond factions. His writing is fascinating for what we know and intriguing in the mass of music we have yet to hear.
All in all, this is another major and very personal entry in the catalogue. It is one that should also fascinate adherents of Shostakovich’s symphonies of the 1960s.
Rob Barnett 
Detailed track list
1 Podmuch wiosny (Gust of Spring) 3:57
2 Bałuckie dzieci (Children of Bałuty)* 4:02
3 Przed starą chatą (In Front of the Old Hut)* 3:59
4 Był sad (There was an Orchard)† 5:13
5 Bez (Elderberry) 3:16
6 Lekcja (Lesson)* 7:33
7 Warszawskie psy (Warsaw Dogs)* 5:44
8 Matka (Mother)* 6:24
9 Sprawiedliwość (Justice) 6:14
10 Wisła płynie (The Vistula flows)* 12:11 

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