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Mieczysław WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Suite for Orchestra (1950) [19:08]
Symphony No. 17 Memory, Op. 137 (1982-84) [45:41]
Siberian State Symphony Orchestra (Krasnoyarsk)/Vladimir Lande
rec. Krasnoyarsk Philharmonic Great Hall, Krasnoyarsk City, Russia, 7-14 July 2015. DDD
NAXOS 8.573565 [64:49]

There are two sharply differentiated languages at work here. The 1950 Suite speaks for the commercial craftsman captivating a mass market while the Symphony is a thing of withering emotive ballistics and angst.

The Suite is redolent of Shostakovich (Cheryomushki) and Khachaturian in populist mode. Its Romance is warmly coaxing and magically casual. Solo instruments give voice over a silken orchestral gauze. Humoresque is sprightly and jolly in the manner of light Prokofiev. It's a graceful energetic confection with lots of entertainment for and from the solo woodwind. It's Russian light music at its gleamingly polished balletic best. The blowsy swirling Waltz is show-biz kitsch and may have you recalling the waltzes of Khachaturian (Masquerade) and Barber (Souvenirs) - catchy though. The Polka is flighty and splendidly bombastic. The final Galop goes with a generously wide flounce. If you have taken to Masquerade you will find more of the same freshly confected here.

The symphonic trilogy On the Threshold of War is one of the landmarks of Weinberg's life achievement. It is made up of Symphonies 17-19, works were borne out of the cataclysm that was Russia's victorious role in World War II. Nos. 18 (review) and 19 (review) have already been issued by Naxos in the inspired hands of Vladimir Lande.

Symphony No. 17 is separated from the Suite by more than thirty years. The contrast is immediately evident from the start of this four-movement 45-minute symphony. The Adagio sostenuto conjures up images of a desolate landscape partly obscured by a snow-blinding gale. The language is markedly acidic — mournful yet not in the doldrums. There's whooping despair in the extended Allegro molto even if 'allegro' (cheerful) seems a strange epithet for the music in which this movement is clothed. It's more 'feroce' with serrated edges outwards. When it relaxes it does so into unforgiving iciness. The short Allegro molto runs to only 4:33. Again this Allegro speaks of speed not joy. It's quite gaunt and without much in the way of remorse or repose. It reminded me of the steadier extremes of Robert Simpson's Fifth Symphony which predates the Weinberg. The final movement is an Andante just a minute or so longer than the Allegro molto. It's an eloquent musing on the pity of war. Certainly you cannot warm your hands by this. It's either chilled or charred; treacherously icy or blistering conflagration. The French horns' slow song at about 4.33 is a consolatory moment. As the movement progresses its emotional surface becomes increasingly agitated; intense, yet positive if at times excoriating. I warmed to this Symphony as each movement passed. It's a brilliant achievement and with a masterful closing flourish. It has both emotional punch and a gust of panache.

This is a new orchestra for Lande for this series. The others which include Symphonies 6 (review) and 12 (review) have been with the St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra. As it is, the Siberian State Symphony Orchestra (Krasnoyarsk) tackles the music with technical and spiritual aplomb.

The booklet notes by Richard Whitehouse suffice and are to the point.

Passionate advocates of Weinberg will also want the long-gone Olympia recording of No. 17 although this can only be had secondhand and at prices you may well baulk at. It was all of twenty years ago that Olympia issued three consecutively numbered CDs in their much larger Vainberg series, all conducted by Fedoseyev who in the 1980s heroically broke ground for this composer:
- Symphonies 14 / 18. Olympia OCD589 -
- Symphony 17 and The Banners of Peace. Olympia OCD590
- Symphony 19 and Chamber Symphony No. 3. Olympia OCD591

Weinberg's musical patrimony takes another step forward and the Naxos price encourages exploration.

Rob Barnett



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