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100th birthday of Mieczyslaw Weinberg on December 8, 2019.
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Mieczysław WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Chamber Symphony No.1, Op. 145 for string orchestra (1987) [31:35]
Concerto for Flute and Strings, Op. 75 (1961) [15:27]
Chamber Symphony No.3, Op. 151 for string orchestra (1990) [31:06]
Łukasz Długosz (flute)
Amadeus Chamber Orchestra of Polish Radio/Anna Duczmal-Mrůz
rec. 2014/17, University Auditorium - Concert Hall of the Poznań Philharmonic, Poland
DUX 1525 [79:00]

When asked in a 1988 interview why he had decided to use the term 'Chamber Symphony', Weinberg replied “.......I simply didn’t want to continue the sequence of high numbers (after Symphony No. 20)”. He went on to offer further clarification by saying that there is no real difference between them and his symphonies 2, 7 and 10, which are likewise scored for a chamber ensemble. In reality, the first two Chamber Symphonies are arrangements of his String Quartets 2 and 3, whilst three out of four of the Third Chamber Symphony’s movements are transcriptions of the String Quartet No. 5. His Chamber Symphony No. 4 is the only one comprising completely new material. All four are late works, composed between 1987 and 1990.

The sunny climes of the opening movement of the First Chamber Symphony (1987) give no indication of the dark days of the war that formed a sombre backdrop to its early genesis as the String Quartet No. 2. The second movement, by contrast, is introspective, mirroring more closely world events. The Andante eventually ups pace into an animated Allegro, more optimistic in tone. A dainty Allegretto follows, preceding a Presto finale, where I can’t help thinking Weinberg had the first movement of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony at the back of his mind.

The Third Chamber Symphony (1990) is a reworking of the first, third and fourth movements of the String Quartet No. 5, with the finale using new material. A Mahlerian first movement depicts an empty wilderness, isolated and desolate. From Mahler, we turn to Shostakovich for the scherzo-like second movement, which is witty and sarcastic, buoyed up by a persistent high-spirited rhythm. The Adagio is filled with melancholy and sorrow. A rather sad dance ends the work.

Sandwiched between the Chamber Symphonies is the first of two flute concertos Weinberg wrote. This one dates from 1961, and it is evident from the opening notes that Shostakovich is an abiding influence. Sitting at the centre of two sprightly outer movements is a haunting Largo, a plaintive lament of bewitching charm. Throughout the work, the flautist has his work cut out and assumes a demanding role. Łukasz Długosz does the job admirably and offers an engaging reading.

Anna Duczmal-Mrůz draws sensitively-shaped performances from the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra of Polish Radio. They are beautifully recorded in a natural-sounding acoustic. For first-timers, especially, embarking on the Weinberg journey, I could think of no better place to start.

This new release is timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the composer's birth, and for devotees, like myself, I hope it will be one of many to appear over the coming year.

Stephen Greenbank
 



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