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Mieczysław WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Chamber Symphony No. 1, Op. 145 (1986) [23:28]
Chamber Symphony No. 2, Op. 147 (1987) [22:40]
Chamber Symphony No. 3, Op. 151 (1990) [33:44]
Chamber Symphony No. 4, Op. 153 (1992) [36:07]
Piano Quintet, Op. 18 (1944) (arr.for piano, string orchestra and percussion by Andrei Pushkarev and Gidon Kremer) [43:26]
Andrei Pushkarev (percussion: 2, 4, quintet)
Yulianna Avdeeva (piano: quintet)
Mate Bekavec (clarinet: 4)
Kremerata Baltica/Gidon Kremer (violin), Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla (4)
rec. live, 13 June, 2015, Musicverein, Vienna (1-3); 9-10 June 2015, Latvian Studio, Riga (Piano Quintet, 4)
ECM NEW SERIES 2538/39 (4814604) [79:45 + 79:40]

Gidon Kremer follows in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessors, David Oistrakh, Leonid Kogan, Emil Gilels, Mstislav Rostropovich and Kirill Kondashin, in his enthusiastic championing of the music of Mieczysław Weinberg. Never one given to self-publicity, the composer remained in the Soviet shadows for many years. Thankfully the balance is now being redressed. He has undergone a major renaissance by the record companies. Naxos and Chandos have symphony cycles in hand, Melodiya have some offerings and Toccata Classics is in on the act. CPO have released the complete string quartets, amongst other things, which I would heartily recommend. I’ve previously reviewed two of their other volumes (review review). The four Chamber Symphonies we have here are late works, dating from the last decade of the composer’s life. Nos. 1-3 are transcriptions of three early string quartets, with No. 4 being an entirely new creation. The 1944 Piano Quintet makes an appearance in a recent orchestral arrangement by Andrei Pushkarev and Gidon Kremer.

Weinberg was awarded the State Prize for his first two Chamber Symphonies, the only time he was awarded an accolade. The First Chamber Symphony of 1986, for string orchestra, is a modified arrangement of the Second String Quartet, which the composer penned at the start of the Second World War. It certainly doesn't reflect the situation the composer found himself in during those dark days of the early 1940s. It's quite upbeat and positive, and notable for its charm and lyricism. In four movements, the finale bears a striking resemblance to the opening movement of Prokofiev's Classical Symphony.

Within a short space of time, Weinberg launched into his Second Chamber Symphony, this time turning to the Third String Quartet for material. Timpani are added to the strings, and a solo violin is thrown into the mix, with Kremer here doing the honours. The opening movement’s intensity derives from its bold, assertive rhythms. However, it is the central movement which fascinates me. To all intents and purposes it's a Mahlerian lšndler, delicately articulated by the strings, with gentle pizzicatos adding shape to the bass-lines. The finale corresponds to the slow movement of the Third Quartet, with a newly composed final page to round off proceedings.
The Third Chamber Symphony confines itself to strings alone, and is a re-working of the first, third and fourth movements of the Fifth Quartet; the finale is a new creation. There’s an undying sombre melancholy running throughout, and it’s only the Allegro molto second movement which provides some energetic rhythmic contrast. Its spiky and angular scoring reminds me of Shostakovich, indulging in witty repartee. The improvisatory meanderings of the finale are notable for the luminous string tone the Kremerata Baltica achieve.
In 1992, Weinberg wrote the Fourth Chamber Symphony, his final completed work; the Symphony No. 22 remained unorchestrated at his death. It’s scored for string orchestra, clarinet and, surprisingly, a triangle, the contribution of which is confined to four notes in the finale. The work is dedicated to his colleague Boris Tchaikovsky, ostensibly to extend the hand of reconciliation. It’s cast in one movement, but divided into four linked sections. This time the composer turned to his opera and songs rather than his string quartets for source material, and there are quotes from his 1980 opera The Portrait in the first section, and allusions to a folk tune in the fourth. An air of melancholy and introspection pervades the score, but the more energetic second section provides an element of contrast with its Bartůk-like ostinatos. The solo clarinet weaves a lonely lament in the elegiac third movement, beautifully realized by Mate Bekavac.

In September 1943 Weinberg put down anchors in Moscow, where he remained for the rest of his life. There he struck up a friendship with Shostakovich. In 1944 he composed his five-movement Piano Quintet. Emil Gilels and the Bolshoi Theatre Quartet premiered it a year later. It’s here arranged for piano, string orchestra and percussion. I haven't heard it in its original form, but this reincarnation is very effective, and makes for a potent listening experience. The opening movement is whimsical and playful. In the third movement Presto there’s a vigorous, buoyant klezmer-like dance, played here with a lusty exuberance. At fourteen minutes, making it the longest movement, the Largo is dark and sombre, and makes a stark contrast to what has gone before. The persistent opening ostinato of the fifth movement calls to mind the finale of Bartůk’s String Quartet No. 1. It moves into an almost carefree vein. At one point, what seems like an Irish gig, clad in eastern European garb, enters the fray. At the very end everything dies away to total silence.

These refined and polished performances are a real discovery for me, as none of the music I'd previously heard. The performers are entirely convincing and are worthy advocates of these alluring scores. These live performances are complemented by a fresh and balanced recording, and David Fanning's discussion of the music on offer is both refreshing and informative.

Stephen Greenbank



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