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Mieczyslav WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Chamber Symphony No. 3 op. 151 (1990) [33:43]
Chamber Symphony No. 2 op. 147 (1987) [22:41]
Chamber Symphony No. 1 op. 145 (1986) [23:19]
Piano Quintet op. 18 (1944, arr. for piano, string orchestra and percussion by Andrei Pushkarev and Gidon Kremer) [43:27]
Chamber Symphony No. 4 op. 153 (1990) [36:11]
Yulianna Adeeva (piano)
Andrei Pushkarev (percussion)
Mate Bekavac (clarinet: 4)
Kremerata Baltica/Gidon Kremer, Mirga Gražinyté-Tyla (4)
rec. Live, Musikverein Vienna, 13 June 2015 (1-3) and Latvian Radio Studio, Riga, 9-10 June 2015 (Quintet, 4)
ECM NEW SERIES 2538/39 [79:43 + 79:38]

This release has proven to be one that has divided opinions, Stephen Greenbank making it a Recording of the Month, and Steve Arloff somewhat lukewarm about the works while praising the performances (review). With each already work extensively described I'll confine myself to a few comparisons and a personal response.

As with the chamber orchestra versions of some of Shostakovich's string quartets I'm in agreement with the general view that, while such transcriptions rob the originals of some of their steely intensity and emotional depth, there is also something new created. Smoothing off some of the sharp corners and gritty edges can have its own appeal, and I am more of a mind to take such versions at face value, bringing them out when I seek to visit that certain world with a somewhat plusher upholstery. The first three of Weinberg's Chamber Symphonies are almost entirely such reworkings, the first taken from the String Quartet No. 2 with an extra fourth movement added, the String Quartet No. 3 became Chamber Symphony No. 2, String Quartet No. 5 becoming Chamber Symphony No. 3.

Comparing these recordings of the 3rd and 4th Chamber Symphonies with the generally admired but not universally acclaimed Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra recording on the Chandos label (review) you can hear where the live performance has the advantage of intensity in the Third Chamber Symphony. Clarinettist Mate Bekavac adds a nice touch of vibrato to his tone at crucial moments, giving added character to a recording that already has more to offer than the virtuoso but more polite and less clearly balanced Johnny Jannesson despite its studio origins. Those Kremeratica Baltica strings really play with gusto in the Allegro molto, and the thin chill of the Adagio really creates that sense of melancholy you might expect from a composer's last completed opus. The Umeå Symphony Orchestra has Chamber Symphonies 1, 4 & 2 on the Alto label (review) re-released from Olympia, and these are also very convincing performances in quite opulent recorded sound.

My reference for the Piano Quintet has been that on the RCA 'On the Threshold of Hope' album (review), but this arrangement by Gidon Kremer and Andrei Pushkarev is an entirely different animal. This was already a work with symphonic proportions, and the string orchestra sonorities plus subtly added percussion really make this into a remarkably powerful score. Despite the significance of the piano part this is never really in danger of turning into a piano concerto, and the chamber-music nature of the piece's origins is retained with sections for solo strings, though more as a reminder of what was than an attempt at a concerto grosso style.

With precious few versions of these works in the mainstream catalogue this ECM package has to be seen as a significant and valuable contribution. If you are a fan of Shostakovich and 20th century Russian culture then you owe it to yourself to acquire these excellent recordings of some very fine music. If you are interested in exploring the string quartets then Quatour Danel has a complete edition on the CPO label. This ECM release has usefully informative booklet notes by David Fanning and a personal recollection of the composer by Alexander Raskatov, who quotes his words, "One should never divide music into avant-garde and arrière-garde, into contemporary and non-contemporary." Amen to that. There is good music in every era and genre, and Mieczysłav Weinberg's is both very good indeed, and fully deserving of such a fine set of performances.

Dominy Clements
Previous reviews: Stephen Greenbank (Recording of the Month) ~ Steve Arloff



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