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Mieczysław WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Concertino for Violin and String Orchestra, Op. 42 [20:22]
Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes, Op. 47/3 (arr. Ewelina Nowicka) [11:16]
Symphony No. 10 for String Orchestra, Op. 98 [37:30]
Ewelina Nowicka (violin)
Amadeus Chamber Orchestra of Polish Radio/Agnieszka Duczmal (Op. 42; Op. 47/3), Anna Duczmal-Mróz (Op. 98)
rec. 8 February 2012 (Op. 42; Op. 47/3), 18 January 2013 (Op. 98), Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland
CPO 777 887-2 [69:11]

CPO has done sterling work on behalf of the Polish/Soviet composer Mieczysław Weinberg although it has concentrated on his chamber music (Piano; Winds; Violin: Vol. 1; Quartets: vol.2; vol. 5; vol. 6; Piano Trio). With this CD they have released one of the most interesting Weinberg albums and as someone once said, Weinberg’s music can be addictive.

This composer's star has risen out of the galaxy of the unjustly neglected. In the last few years a substantial momentum has gathered behind the cause. In 2010 he was the featured composer at the Bregenz Festival in Austria. Its artistic director David Pountney programmed the stage première of the opera The Passenger in the Festspielhaus and the first Austrian performance of opera The Portrait at the Theater am Kornmarkt. Pountney put forward Weinberg as the “third man” beside Prokofiev and Shostakovich.

Following close on the heels of the Cello Concerto Weinberg’s Concertino, Op. 42 is a jewel. Written in 1948 around the time of the ‘anti-formalist’ decrees its origin is vague and it seems that the unperformed manuscript was lost until it resurfaced after Weinberg’s death. Violinist Valery Vorona premièred it in 1999 in the region of half a century after its composition. In three movements, this highly lyrical work is characteristic Weinberg shot through with Jewish melodies amid a blend of introspection, melancholy and tempered vitality. The exceedingly memorable opening Allegro Cantabile is rather ambiguous, attractively tuneful on the surface with an undercurrent of searching and melancholy. Robust playing of the central movement underlines a serious even somewhat lugubrious tone. In the Finale the captivating melody of the opening movement recurs but it’s the undertow of pain and anguish that cuts deep. Soloist Ewelina Nowicka excels with cleanly articulated, beautifully phrased playing of pin-point intonation. In addition there is a lovely rich sound from the low strings. Nowicka is more than a match for the two competing accounts of the Concertino: Linus Roth with the Württemberg Chamber Orchestra Heilbronn under Ruben Gazarian on Challenge Classics and Gidon Kremer with the Kremerata Baltica on ECM New Series.

Next we hear the memorable Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes which Weinberg completed for orchestra and for violin and piano. Evidently he recalled preparing a version for violin and orchestra that was performed in 1953 but that score appears to have been lost. On this disc we find an arrangement for violin and string orchestra by Nowicka. The music is heavily accented with Moldavian folk melodies in a stirring, highly lyrical style obsequiously in keeping with the Soviet authorities’ demand for relatively simple melodic and traditional folk music. On the other hand for what are conspicuously Jewish melodies (as with the Violin Concertino) one wonders how on earth Weinberg avoided censure and punishment for ‘Cosmopolitanism’ - Soviet-speak for unwanted Jewish influences. David Fanning in the booklet notes puts forward that Weinberg’s selection of themes may have been related to his mother having originated from Kishinyov the capital of the Russian region of Bessarabia, with its large Jewish population, now mainly part of Moldova. Throughout the score one senses wholehearted involvement by Nowicka who displays extraordinarily high levels of vitality and technical virtuosity. This is highly expressive playing.

Completed in 1968 Weinberg’s Symphony No. 10 comes straight after The Passenger. It was the dedicatee Rudolf Barshai with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra who introduced the score the same year at the Moscow Conservatoire. Weinberg cast it in five movements using the titles Concerto grosso, Pastorale, Canzona, Burlesque and Inversion, with the last four played continuously. It's intensely powerful and makes a notable impression with its angular and rather spiky opening Concerto grosso. An unsettling sense of foreboding flows under the exterior calm of the Pastorale and the dance-like Canzona has a shadowy, haunted feel. Short in length, the dark and unsettling Burlesque with its often frantic pace has a disconcerting character which is replicated and even intensified in the final Inversion. In this work it is hard to choose between the richly blended playing of the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra of Polish Radio under Anna Duczmal-Mróz and Gidon Kremer’s Kremerata Baltica account outlined above.

Nineteen-strong, the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra of Polish Radio under Agnieszka Duczmal in the Concertino and the Moldavian Rhapsody, and Anna Duczmal-Mróz in the Tenth Symphony. They hardly put a foot wrong. CPO has lavished great care on the sound quality providing clarity and admirable balance. David Fanning’s booklet notes are as interesting and informative as one might expect from Weinberg’s biographer. A slight grumble about the booklet is the incorrect track indexing given for the symphony. There's no shortage of melody or emotional depth in this eminently accessible CPO release which makes a splendid case for Weinberg.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank



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