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Mieczysław WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Symphony No. 12 In memoriam D. Shostakovich (1976) [57:19]
The Golden Key - Ballet Suite No. 4 (1954-55) 18:21
St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Lande
rec. Petersburg Recording Studio, St Catherine Lutheran Church, St Petersburg, Russia, 10-13 June 2012 (Symphony), 6-7 July 2012
NAXOS 8.573085 [75:40]

Weinberg was at one time called Vainberg on Western releases. He stands now, in recording terms, in about the same position that Myaskovsky stood in the 1980s. More than a handful of his symphonies have been recorded but there is a long haul in prospect before we have a complete cycle; let alone a cycle from one label and one orchestra and conductor. There are about the same number of symphonies: 26 as against Myaskovsky's 27. All of the Myaskovsky symphonies can be had in a uniform edition thanks to Warner Classics. We are a long way from a complete Weinberg cycle; this despite the ministrations of Neos, Chandos and Naxos. By the way, if you need a rule of thumb: Weinberg even in his earliest works sounds nothing like Myaskovsky. He is closer to Shostakovich. Before anyone comments about originality these observations are intended only to give a generalised impression or flavour. I have no intention of suggesting that Weinberg is some sort of Shostakovich facsimile.  

Naxos already have Weinberg’s symphonies 6 (8.572779) and 19 (8.572752) under Lande and 8 directed by Wit (8.572873). As with the other Naxos CDs the one under attention makes companions of a symphony and a non-symphonic work.
 
Weinberg's Twelfth Symphony dates from the year after the death of the composer with whom Weinberg has most often been compared. It is one of a host of works written to mark the death of the USSR's leading contemporary composer. It's all but an hour long and carries a subtitle leaving little room for illusion as to its intentions. The writing is tense and atmospheric. You could cut the intensity with a knife. Little ostinato cells often of barbed originality come and go. These fanfares, buzzings and stutters are at play around lyrical ideas from woodwind and strings. We are dealing with a big orchestra but it is usually deployed in small units without quite being chamber music in effect. At times such is the proliferation of ideas one has the sense of a 'concerto for orchestra'. The approach recalls that of Shostakovich’s Fifteenth Symphony. Lande's grave Allegretto is molasses stolid. Deliberation and reflection mark out what we hear. One can imagine something more possessed and febrile. Even so the movement ends with a roar. After this comes a desolate and lamenting Adagio in which the strings predominate. We are trapped in an inward-looking world of despair between Shostakovich, Mahler and Sibelius 4 (6:03 onwards). At 10.08 the music rises to an extremely impressive elegiac tolling from the strings. There's a touch of Allan Pettersson about this; try his Ninth Symphony newly issued on BIS-CD-2038. The Fourth movement is about as long as the first (20:40 against 17:13). The music is now a shade lighter and even affectionate. The mood is also lightened by the use of marimba right from the start. The slight air of levity gradually turns grim and morphs into a lament lit by a mosaic of glinting and confiding rather than strident percussion. The tempo slows, steadies and dies away.

The symphony was premiered in Moscow on 13 October 1979 with the Moscow RSO conducted by Maxim Shostakovich.
 
The Golden Key is from two decades earlier. It's another world; what with a title like a a Shostakovich ballet - it even sounds similar. The music is brilliant, splendidly balletic, alive with fantasy of many and various sorts. It's not all heartless neon either; try the lovely Elegy. Prokofiev's imagination must also have been an influence as we can hear in the Dance of Artemon and Stravinsky in the cool Dance of The Cricket. The carousel effect of The Pursuit finale may well remind you of the carefree celebratory music of Shostakovich's musical Cheryomushki - the latter available in full on Chandos CHAN 9591(2). The Weinberg ballet was premiered in Moscow in 1962 and two years later Weinberg crafted from its music four orchestral suites of which this is the last. If you have enjoyed the ballets of Prokofiev and Shostakovich you will like this colourful score - a lot.
 
This is a generously timed CD and adeptly documented by Richard Whitehouse.
 
Naxos have made us think that the sky’s the limit so how about cycles of the symphonies of Cuclin (a complete unknown well worth exploring), Knipper and Lokshin?
 
Rob Barnett 

And another review ...

This is the fourth release in less than eighteen months in the splendid Naxos series devoted to the symphonies of Mieczysław Weinberg. Like the present recording, the first two were made by Vladimir Lande with the St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra (review of volume 1). Last time out, Naxos old hand Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir took the reins for Weinberg's Eighth Symphony, one of several he wrote to feature choral forces.
 
With Chandos's own Weinberg edition six entries strong, symphony fans can rejoice over the speed at which recording gaps are being filled. The table below summarises coverage as it stands:-
 
Naxos Chandos
Symphony no.1, op.10 (1942) CHSA 5078
Symphony no.2, op.30 (1946)
Symphony no.3, op.45 (1949-50/1959) CHSA 5089
Symphony no.4, op.61 (1957/1961) CHAN 10237
Symphony no.5, op.76 (1962) CHAN 10128
Symphony no.6, op.79 (1963) 8.572779
Symphony no.7, op.81 (1964) CHSA 5078
Symphony no.8, op.83 (1964) 8.572873
Symphony no.9, op.93 (1940-1967)
Symphony no.10, op.98 (1968)
Symphony no.11, op.101 (1969)
Symphony no.12, op.114 (1976) 8.573085
Symphony no.13, op.115 (1976)
Symphony no.14, op.117 (1977) CHAN 10334
Symphony no.15, op.119 (1977)
Symphony no.16, op.131 (1981) CHAN 10334
Symphony no.17, op.137 (1984)
Symphony no.18, op.138 (1986)
Symphony no.19, op.142 (1986) 8.572752
Symphony no.20, op.150 (1988) CHSA 5107
Symphony no.21, op.152 (1991)
Symphony no.22 (fragment)
Sinfonietta no.1, op.41 (1948) CHAN 10128
Sinfonietta no.2, op.74 (1960) CHAN 10237 

In addition, Symphonies nos. 1, 2, 4-7, 10, 12, 14, 17-19 and both Sinfoniettas have all been recorded at least once by other CD labels, leaving only nos. 9, 11, 13, 15, 21 and the incomplete 22 still unaddressed. The four Chamber Symphonies (1987-92, opp.145, 147, 151, 153) have also been recorded by other labels, none as yet by Naxos or Chandos.
 
The Naxos promotional material for this disc claims that "Weinberg's symphonies are recognised today as a substantial continuation of the Russian tradition." That is sadly a long way from being the case: for example, no work of Weinberg's, let alone symphony, has ever been heard at the BBC Proms; by contrast, Shostakovich's First Symphony has appeared 24 times, his Fifth 25 times and his Tenth 32 times. Nevertheless, first-rate recordings like this are setting the record straight in emphatic style.
 
Weinberg's Twelfth Symphony frequently recalls some of Shostakovich's own: the Seventh in the opening, the Tenth elsewhere through the cryptic allusions to the latter's signature D-S-C-H motif, and so on. The sheer length of the movements of this, Weinberg's longest purely instrumental symphony, will also remind the listener of Shostakovich. This is deliberate on Weinberg's part - this work is after all a tribute to his recently deceased friend, an extension of his era, in a sense.
 
Yet features like the marimba-led introduction to the final movement, and the harp and celesta at the end, underline the fact that Weinberg has always been his own man. As critic Alex Ross put it recently, "when you compare dates you realize that sometimes it's Shostakovich who echoes Weinberg" (The New Yorker, 5 Sept 2011). Weinberg's symphonies are actually more immediately audience-friendly, his natural conservativeness contributing to more lyrical, less strident, less polemic, and indeed more optimistic works than Shostakovich.
 
The two labels' informal policy of not doubling each others' Weinberg recordings only applies, presumably, to the symphonies, as there are now Naxos-Chandos pairs of the Golden Key Suite no.4 and the Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes, with no way for collectors to avoid having both except by resorting to download. As is quite often the case with Weinberg's music, the Golden Key Suite, entertaining but by no means flippant or banal, is more Prokofiev than Shostakovich - similar in spirit indeed to the former's Stone Flower or Cinderella.
 
As could be expected, the St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra are in their element throughout the recording, but in the symphony especially. Vladimir Lande brings out their very best in a memorable homage to both composers. Sound quality is impressive - better, in fact, than the majority of available recordings of Shostakovich's music. The engineering by the Naxos team is arguably the best ever to have come out of Russia. Notes by series annotator Richard Whitehouse once again supply all the necessary details in clear, informative language.
 
Byzantion
Contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk
 


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