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Mieczysław WEINBERG (1919–1996)
Concerto for violin and orchestra, op. 67 (1959) [27:49]
Dmitry KABALEVSKY (1904–1987)
Fantasy in F minor for piano and orchestra (after Schubert D 940) (1961) [17:55]
Concerto for cello and orchestra No. 1 in G minor, op. 49 (1948-49) [20:48]
Benjamin Schmid (violin)
Claire Huangci (piano)
Harriet Krijgh (cello)
ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra/Cornelius Meister
rec. 2016, ORF Radio Kulturhaus, Vienna
CAPRICCIO C5310 [66:32]

Always on the lookout for new recordings of Mieczysław Weinberg’s music, I took a peek and was highly amused by the lack of soft-pedalling in the PR blurb for this release on Capriccio’s website: “Dmitry Kabalevsky – despite the vague name recognition a widely unknown composer of socialist-realist music – has rightly been forgotten, if only because of his actively unsavoury, toadying, opportunist politics that netted him three Stalin Prizes and four Orders of Lenin. He was chummy with the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians when that seemed expedient and later a very active member of the Union of Soviet Composers.” If this is the sales pitch then good luck, but the text is in fact just cut and pasted from the opening paragraph of Jens F. Laurson’s booklet note

Weinberg’s story is almost entirely the opposite to Kabalevsky’s, but his name is now appearing with increasing frequency over a variety of mainstream classical record labels. The Violin Concerto has recordings on Challenge Classics (review), Naxos (review), Warner Classics (review), and Melodiya’s recording by the work’s dedicatee Leonid Kogan (review).

This version opens with plenty of vim and grit from both soloist and orchestra, and I feel Benjamin Schmid is more on top of the rhythm in the opening movement than Linus Roth on Challenge Classics. The ORF recording is leaner and less sumptuous, full of urgent drama and cold-war tensions which keep you on the edge of your seat. The second movement Allegretto is heartfelt and closely wrought, Schmid adapting his tone into something more muted and confiding without losing expressive weight. The movingly prayer-like atmosphere of the Adagio takes us yet further along this journey of emotions, Schmid’s violin singing with passionate emphasis without tipping into hysteria. The final Allegro Risoluto might provide relief were it not for the martial overtones in its character – oppression rather than sprightly wit keeping the gate closed against proper release, though we make the best of things while in the ghetto.

I very much enjoyed Claire Huangci’s Scarlatti recording on Berlin Classics, and am delighted to see her name here in Kabalevsky’s Fantasy on Schubert’s marvellous four-hands piano work D 940. To paraphrase Jens F. Laurson’s booklet notes, this work ‘transcribes and remixes it as a 20th century piano concerto’, but the result is more 19th century, the original overlaid with an orchestral part that gives it a strangely romanticised character – perhaps highlighting Schubert’s forward-looking composing, but with rather a heavy hand. The Largo middle section tends to drag, the momentum normally heard from good piano duet versions sinking under clever orchestral details, weighty accents and dramatic percussion. The final Vivace is sprightly enough, but remains something of an uphill trek, with the feel that repeated wind and brass notes dictate the tempo rather than its being allowed to be free and indeed fantasy-like. Claire Huangci plays very well indeed, right down to the bizarre cadenza added 4:33 into the third section, but is alas on a losing wicket in this ungainly lump of a work, which I’m sure Schubert would have found very odd indeed.

Expectations for Kabalevsky’s First Cello Concerto are set out in the booklet notes with quotes applied to the composer from a variety of sources: “always interesting yet rarely deep”, “Khachaturian without the rhythmical drive” or “Prokofiev-with-water.” This work, while not quite as frequently done as the Cello Concerto No. 2 has been recorded a few times before. There is Torlief Thedéen on the CPO label with the NDR Radiophilharmonie conducted by Eiji Oue which gives a more opulent impression, with the soloist perhaps up a little too close in the recorded perspective, but still very good. Naxos has Alexander Rudin with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra conducted by Igor Golovschin in a more resonant setting and losing a little in orchestral detail as a result. This Capriccio recording has a natural, concert-hall balance, with Harriet Krijgh’s instrument at the same distance as the orchestra, blending with its sound more and putting both on a more equal footing which I rather like. Turn the volume up a little more than you might normally and you get the full effect, the slow central movement delivering plenty of atmospheric yearning, the final movement bristling with folk-tunefulness and eloquence of expression. I can live without Kabalevsky’s Piano Fantasy, but this recording of the First Cello Concerto is enjoyable indeed, and I’m sure we will be hearing much more from cellist Harriet Krijgh in the future.

Dominy Clements


 

 



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