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Mieczysław WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Chamber Symphony No.1, op.145 for string orchestra (1987) [25.54]
Chamber Symphony No.3, op.151 for string orchestra (1990) [32.36]
East-West Chamber Orchestra/Rotislav Krimer
rec. 2018, Grand Hall of the Belarus State Philharmonic, Minsk
NAXOS 8.574063 [58.16]

The development of reputations is always a matter of fascination. Figures considered great in their lifetimes fall out of fashion, and sometimes quite rightly remain so (who reads Marie Corelli, these days, and who might be likely to do so?). Others are over-shadowed by those around them, and fame comes later - if ever. It can be a misfortune of timing, as with the reputation of the artist Domenico Beccafumi, who had the misfortune to be an almost exact contemporary of Michelangelo and whose genius seems known only to specialists. Weinberg seems to have emerged in recent years from the shadow of his great friend Shostakovich and of Prokofiev, promoted by distinguished interpreters such as Gidon Kremer and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. His work has entered the mainstream, but it is instructive that in Norman Lebrecht’s The Companion to 20th Century Music, from 1992, he has no entry. Greater exposure to his many works reveals a musician with much to say, capable of rare beauty in a troubled world, a beauty that he often maintains despite the grave tragedies of his own life as a Jew first in Poland, then in Stalin’s USSR.

This new recording from Naxos is welcome for both the intrinsic quality of the music and outstanding performances from the East-West Chamber Orchestra, on their recorded debut. Players are drawn from across the world for the Yuri Bashmet International Music Festival, and players are soloists and/or leaders in their own right. Weinberg was most gifted as a writer for orchestral strings and, on the evidence of this disc, one to delight.

Of the two chamber symphonies here, No.1 is the better known – indeed, it is one of his most recorded works and likely to become firmly established in the regular concert repertoire. It is an arrangement (but subsequently heavily revised, with a new third movement) of his Second String Quartet, which was composed in Minsk in 1940: the orchestral version is dedicated to the memory of his mother and sister, probably killed in Traniki in 1943. Formal beauty is matched by intensity, wonderfully realised here.

No. 3 draws on the Fifth Quartet, selecting first, third and fourth movements, together with a wholly new finale. Its overall mood is arguably a touch more sombre than in the first symphony, but there are similar beauties. The finale captures both yearning and a degree of consolation.

Michael Wilkinson

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