This stunning ECM New Series recording was issued in February 2014. For some reason the release passed me but I’m extremely glad that I’ve caught up with it.
Undoubtedly for many Mieczysław Weinberg will be a new name. A brief outline of his life records that he was born into a Polish/Jewish family in Warsaw and studied at the Warsaw Conservatory. He fled before the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 but instead of trying to head west to England or the United States he went east to Minsk where he managed to undertake some compositional study. In 1941 he had to flee again from the advancing Nazis and arrived in Uzbekistan finding work at the Tashkent opera house. Shostakovich had been sent some of Weinberg’s music for assessment and as a result of Shostakovich's encouragement in 1943 he moved to Moscow. In the Soviet Union under Stalin’s rule Weinberg was to experience a fearful period of anti-Semitic discrimination including censure, blacklisting and actual arrest, plus the murder of his father-in-law, the actor Solomon Mikhoels by Stalin’s secret police. After Stalin’s death in 1953 Weinberg and his family began to experience relative peace and security.
Regarded by many as a mere footnote in a typical Shostakovich biography, Weinberg has risen out of the pack of unjustly neglected composers. In the last few years a substantial momentum has gathered behind the prolific Soviet composer’s cause underlined by the increasing number of recordings of his considerable output. Director David Pountney who has staged his opera The Passenger
described Weinberg as the “third man
” alongside the two great compositional geniuses of the Soviet Union: Prokofiev and Shostakovich. I said in a previous review that now Weinberg’s music is gaining a wider circulation it would only take a young, enterprising conductor, maybe one born in the Soviet Union such as Vasily Petrenko, Kirill Petrenko or Kirill Karabits to make a series of recordings of Weinberg’s symphonic works to stimulate a storm of international attention. Should a world renowned name such as Valery Gergiev or Mariss Jansons take up the cause, well, the sky would be the limit.
On the present double disc set are five Weinberg works performed by the twenty-two strong Kremerata Baltica directed by its founder Gidon Kremer with four other soloists.
The first CD comprises three chamber works. Opening the disc is the challenging Sonata No. 3 for solo violin
from 1979. Dedicated to the memory of his father the four movement score is played in one continuous span. Kremer views this twenty-two minute long work as being in the same league as Bartók’s Sonata for solo violin
and J.S. Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas.
I’m not sure it is in the same league as the Bach but if given a reasonable degree of concentration it is certainly enthralling. Kremer has broken the work down into seven sections giving each a descriptive title, a design which in truth is none too easy to follow. Weinberg and Kremer take the listener on an eventful emotional journey. This is challenging writing that demonstrates real technical prowess. Kremer’s characterful and steadfast playing is highly persuasive.
Particularly in the late 1940s and 1950s writing chamber music came under less scrutiny from the Soviet authorities than for works written on a larger scale such as symphonies and operas. One such falling into this category is the Trio for violin, viola and cello
, Op. 48 a three movement piece from 1950. The opening Allegro con moto
is full of vitality and is thoroughly alive and alert whilst the bleak and searching Andante
is shot through with bitter melancholy. The pulsating and determined, folk-inspired Moderato assai
finale reminded me of the klezmer fiddler.
Another work from Weinberg’s period of chamber music activity is the Sonatina for violin and piano
, Op. 46. From 1949 this three movement score is in a late-romantic idiom. The opening Allegretto
is vibrant and high spirited followed by a divergent Lento
which is unerringly stern yet absorbing. It has a short bold and energetic central passage. In the Allegro moderato
I was stirred by the wild revelry reminiscent of a Jewish folk dance with conflicting passages that are both serious and unsettling.
The second CD opens with the Concertino for violin and string orchestra
, Op. 42 a jewel of a work from 1948. In three movements the Concertino
has a highly lyrical style that would be obsequiously in keeping with the Soviet authorities' demand for relatively simple melodic and traditional folk music. This is a highly engaging and compelling work and is beautifully played. The first movement Allegretto
and especially the sardonic waltz in the final movement are shot through with Jewish melodies. The stark Lento
takes on a searching and rather pining character. I was struck by the rich and warm string sound.
Composed in 1968 during a period of loosening State interference the Symphony No.10 for string orchestra
, Op. 98 was commissioned by the Moscow Chamber Orchestra who premičred the work under Rudolf Barshai. It’s daring and comparatively progressive, employing twelve tone rows and chordal structure. A bold and dense bed of strings in the opening Concerto Grosso - Grave
imparts an often chilling quality to this vigorously played interpretation. Lighter in weight, the mood of the Pastorale - Lento
is remorselessly unsettling. A section at 3:00-5:18 becomes wilful and harsh, almost aggressive. In the central movement Canzona - Andantino
a sense of solitude prevails broken only by a couple of nervy episodes. The disposition of the Burlesque - Allegro molto
is predominantly dark with persistent outbursts of anger. This time Weinberg’s characteristically contrasting central passage is calm on the surface with an unsettling undercurrent. The Finale
marked Inversion - L’istesso tempo
has a swirling quality over a throbbing tension that feels unremittingly disturbing and just eats away at the nerve-endings before its abrupt end. It’s not difficult to imagine this harrowing music in some way representing Weinberg’s torments with the Soviet authorities.
Recorded at two locations — Neuhardenberg, Germany and Lockenhaus, Austria — the sound quality is generally first class, cool, clear and splendidly balanced. My only grumble is the slight cloudiness in the Solo Violin Sonata
, Op, 126. In the booklet is the substantial essay by Wolfgang Sandner titled ‘Reading between the musical lines’. It makes for a highly informative read.
The first disc contains three extremely worthwhile chamber works whilst the second for string orchestra is exceptional. The Concertino
, Op. 42 is a masterpiece and not far behind the Symphony No.10 for string orchestra
, Op. 98, an outstanding work that has depth of content and improves with repeated hearings. This is a special release imperiously played here with assured artistry. Undoubtedly one the finest Weinberg recordings available.
Previous review: Steve
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