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Mieczysław WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Chamber Symphony No.3 in B flat major, for string orchestra, Op.151 (1990) [32:56]
Chamber Symphony No.4 in B major in one movement, for obbligato clarinet, triangle and string orchestra, Op.153 (1992) [32:34]
Johnny Jannesson (clarinet), Fredrik Burstedt (violin), Niklaas Weltman (cello)
Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra/Thord Svedlund
rec. Konserthuset, Helsingborg, Sweden, 2014

Composing was something that Mieczysław Weinberg felt compelled to do right up to his final years. This was despite seeing so many of his friends die as well as there being a reduction in the public's interest in his music.

As David Fanning explains in his booklet notes many of his late works involved revisiting material from past compositions as with the first two of his chamber symphonies but in the case of these two we’re not talking about a mere recycling or repackaging. Weinberg’s music is so rich in ideas that there is a lot that can be re-examined and refashioned into new works.

Although it is true that three of the Chamber Symphony no.3’s movements are closely related to his String Quartet No.5 it would seem that he used the openings of the quartet’s movements principally as spring-boards into new material. The opening Lento is quite dark in character, more so than much of Weinberg’s music which, given the times, circumstances and place is generally optimistic, much more so than his great friend and champion Shostakovich. Lento it certainly is and I have to confess that despite the fact that I had not heard the work before I did feel it could do with being played just a little faster. I felt rather disappointed in its somewhat over-languid feel. David Fanning writes in the notes that in his opinion it is “... one of the most intensely romantic and confessional movements in Weinberg’s output.” Weinberg is an absolute favourite composer of mine so I find it hard to say that as played here I found it rather boring and a slightly faster pace might solve that; I hope so anyway.

The second movement is fast-paced and rumbustious — more typical of the Weinberg I’ve grown to know with wit aplenty all within a manic dance episode. The third Adagio follows without a break and establishes a bleak musical landscape that lasts the entire seven minutes. There is no emotional let-up since the final Andantino again sounds sad. This waltz-like conclusion is the only movement that is totally unconnected to the music of the fifth quartet though there are themes that have their origin in other Weinberg works. Considering everything of Weinberg’s that I’ve heard before, I found this work somewhat less satisfying. My impression is that it is not up to his normally high standard but I’m prepared to admit I might be missing something or that it was due to a rather lacklustre performance.

The Chamber Symphony No.4 followed the third quite quickly being composed just two years later. It is an intriguing work that though it declares it is for clarinet and triangle — surely unique in anyone’s output — the triangle is given just four notes. Would that have been enough to have satisfied the triangle-loving Sir Thomas Beecham, I wonder The important solo roles for violin and cello are unmentioned in the title of the score. David Fanning suggests that the opening chorale in the first movement derives from material Weinberg used in at least three other works. The clarinet then makes its entrance with a theme that has its origins in Weinberg’s 17th string quartet. It is said that if something is worth saying it’s worth saying - at least - twice. Weinberg certainly had a lot of material to draw on when it comes to a second look.

The second movement is a considerable contrast to the first. The clarinet plays a kind of pied piper role leading the orchestra along a fractured path. This music that is firmly in the sound-world one has come to expect from both Weinberg and Shostakovich. Eventually after a series of episodes the music is left to the solo violin then cello to conclude. We are left in mid-air. The third movement is an Adagio that is sad but thematically rich. The final Andantino opens with Jewish-sounding folk-tune on the clarinet, a favoured instrument when it comes to klezmer. According to Fanning this echoes then recently-composed music that Weinberg had written for a play called Trudn´ye lyudi (Difficult people). This movement is full of richly-scored and exceedingly beautiful tunes all of which peter out. A sparkling full-stop is afforded by the triangle’s final note.

Despite my reservations about this reading of the third, the fourth is accorded a more satisfying performance. That could be as much due to the fact that I found it a more successful work overall. This was Weinberg’s last completed composition and it confirms my opinion that he was the other seriously great composer of the twentieth century in Russia alongside Shostakovich.

Steve Arloff

Previous reviews: David Barker ~ Gary Higginson



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