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Mieczysław WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Flute Concerto No.1, op.75 (1961) [16:10]
12 miniatures bis for flute and orchestra, op.29 (1945/1983) [18:37]
Flute Concerto No.2, op.148 (1987) [20:17]
Trio for flute, viola and harp, op.127 (1979) [13:46]
Antonina Styczeń (flute)
Polish Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Sopot/Wojciech Rajski
rec. Stella Maris Church, Sopot, 2016
TACET 232 [69:28]

One of the continuing joys in my recent musical life is the discovery of the music of Mieczysław Weinberg (Wajnberg according to this disc, as it is of German provenance). The sheer variety of his compositions is a constant source of surprise and delight; he is a 20th century renaissance man, there seems to be virtually no genre he didn’t have a go at. This disc of music for flute is enthralling, containing as it does some of Weinberg’s most delightfully charming music covering over forty years of his composing life.

His first concerto for flute dates from 1961 and it leaps into life from the very first note of its scherzo and brought to mind a mischievous will-o-the-wisp darting around up to his pranks. The first movement’s overall mood is supremely jolly and has the listener smiling throughout its length. The second movement could hardly be more different, opening as it does in a gloomy and reflective mood which continues until its end. The happy atmosphere returns for its third and final movement in which echoes of Mahler can be heard along with Polish folk-dance themes and klezmer, reflecting the composer’s Jewish origins. The soloist is required to work hard throughout the concerto with the ability to practise circular breathing tested to the limit. This work would be a big hit with audiences in any concert hall but I wonder how many times it has been heard in such a setting; it would be great if flautists took it up with programmers to encourage them to include it.

12 miniatures op.29 bis for flute and orchestra was originally Partita for flute and piano written in 1945 and is overwhelming joyful, though with tinges of melancholy which is hardly surprising considering the awful experiences he endured during the preceding 6 years which including losing his family to the holocaust. However, his recent marriage lifted his spirits; this version of the partita was created in 1983 when he orchestrated the piano part. They are all beautifully crafted pieces and give much pleasure as does everything on the disc.

Weinberg’s second flute concerto was completed in 1987 and opens with a ravishingly beautiful theme that becomes agitated and restless before returning to its gentle state. This is a feature of each movement but it adds interest and shows the flute can handle dramatic interludes just as successfully as those describing pastoral peace. Maybe Weinberg wanted to remind us that life can throw everything at us but that we must endure and overcome as he certainly managed to do. The short second movement is more serious than the first, acting as a bridge between the outer ones, and the final movement opens in as upbeat a way as the first and interestingly Weinberg later chooses to inject some snatches of the flautists’ core repertoire in the shape of the Badinerie from Bach’s Orchestral Suite in B minor and Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orfeo et Euridice. Just as in the first concerto, the second is a marvellous example of music for flute and orchestra with the flute occupying centre stage throughout and showing itself as a supremely versatile instrument able to hold its own, as well as the listener’s interest.

The final work on this enjoyable disc is Weinberg’s Trio op.127 for flute, viola and harp. Danuta Gwizdalanka, who wrote the booklet notes, believes it shows a loneliness that Weinberg was feeling now that his friend Shostakovich had died in 1975 and his two collaborators Barshai having left the Soviet Union in 1977 and Kirill Kondrashin the year this work was written in 1979. Whatever the motivation the music is superb with these three instruments proving how well suited they are to be put together, as Debussy had so successfully shown.

Antonina Styczeń proves a wonderful artist who meets every challenge the writing presents her while the orchestra and conductor though not widely known outside Poland play wonderfully well and the two soloists in the trio do a brilliant job and deserve naming on the credits.

I often find myself saying this but it is as true on this occasion as it ever is and that is for those who have yet to discover the cornucopia of music by this amazing composer this disc would a be a truly enlightening beginning to what will surely become a love affair.

Steve Arloff



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