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Leo WEINER (1885-1960)
Serenade op.3 for small orchestra [19:03]
Divertimento No.1 for Strings Op.20 ‘After Old Hungarian Dances’ [10:37]
Divertimento No.2 for Strings Op.24 ‘Hungarian Folk Melodies’ [14:51]
Divertimento No.3 Op.25 ‘Hungarian Impressions’ [13:32]
Divertimento No.4 Op.38 [9:45]
Divertimento No.5 Op.39 ‘Hungarian Impressions’ [14:44]
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. live, 2015/16, Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn
CHANDOS CHAN10959 [83:05]

Leo Weiner was a Hungarian educator and composer, whose output has made little headway in the West. The booklet quotes an article by Bartók, just five years Weiner’s senior, describing him as being musically conservative along with Dohnányi, and there is no doubt that the music presented on this CD has more in common with that composer than with his much more radical senior. I must say that I am particularly fond of Dohnányi’s music, much of which has now been recorded, not least because of the efforts of Chandos, but I have been less impressed by the works on this release.

It may be that the presence of five short divertimentos, each between ten and fifteen minutes long, whose style, despite spanning some seventeen years of composition, doesn’t show much development, results in aural saturation, when they are listened to in succession. The short movements of each meld into a blur, as the ear struggles to latch on to any particularly distinctive characteristic.

It is true that his orchestral output is small, and so my early thought that this disc would have been better, if other works had been included in place of some of the divertimenti, is not really appropriate

Each divertimento is mildly ‘Hungarian’, if by that we mean they rely on that country’s indigenous music, but by no measure does Weiner distil the earthy rawness, so inimitably presented to us in Bartók’s oeuvre. Two of the five are sub-titled ‘Hungarian Impressions’, another ‘Hungarian Folk Melodies’ and another ‘after Old Hungarian Dances’. Two are for strings alone, but even this restriction in the scoring hardly serves to differentiate them.

This sounds dismissive, but in truth they are all highly listenable pieces, each is very pleasant when accessed by itself, and they almost fall into the category of light music. Of course, Weiner did not intend that all five Divertimenti should be listened to in sequence, and if they are taken singly, they are undoubtedly charming, as is true of the first and longest item on the disc, his op.3 Serenade for Small Orchestra.

I regret that for comparison purposes, I have not been able to listen to any other recording of his music – there is a Naxos disc of his one ballet and assorted discs of chamber pieces.

Neeme Järvi has a long history of producing impressive recordings for Chandos, and the technical quality here is never in question. The orchestra (of which he is Artistic Director), plays beautifully, with fetching solos when required, and the recording is set in a natural acoustic with plenty of bloom to the sound. The booklet is up to the house standard, giving a quite detailed description of each work.

Jim Westhead

Previous review: Rob Barnett



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