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,
Flowers and Melodiya
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
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
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.
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