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Mieczysław WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Flute Concerto No.1, Op.75 (1961) [14:59]
Flute Concerto No.2, Op.148b (1987) [19:54]
12 Pieces for Flute & Orchestra, Op.29b (1947, arr. 1983) [17:33]
5 Pieces for Flute and Piano (1947) [16:01]
Claudia Stein (flute)
Elizaveta Blumina (piano)
Szczecin Philharmonic Orchestra/David Robert Coleman
rec. 2017/18, Szczecin Philharmonic, Poland; Jesus-Christe Kirche, Berlin-Dahlem, Germany
NAXOS 8.573931 [68:32]

Weinberg (the internationally accepted spelling despite his Polish origins) is fast becoming my favourite composer after Beethoven, threatening to replace Shostakovich in my all-round affections, something I never expected to say.

Weinberg had every justifiable reason for reflecting his dreadful early years in his music: having escaped the fast-approaching Nazi hordes, he later learned of the murders of his entire family and many friends. Despite this his music is overwhelmingly upbeat though there are times when the darkness is apparent. The opening of his first Flute Concerto is puckish in the extreme, jumping straight in with one of the work’s main themes, the flute and orchestra sharing the tune between them to delightful effect. There follows a more martial theme and the two are intertwined before the movement ends. The bulk of the composer’s works for flute were conceived for the soloist Alexander Korneyev who must have been an amazing player. Weinberg clearly worked very closely with him and got to know all the colours and possibilities the instrument embodies and which he showcases so well. The second, slow movement is beautifully melodious; the flute carries the tune while te orchestra has a less important role. The finale begins after the slow movement fades away. This last movement emerges from the last notes of the second and its main theme is, in Richard Whitehouse’s words, one of “elegant bemusement”. Traces of klezmer, so often surfacing in Weinberg’s music, make their appearance. A second theme is introduced and is presented alongside the first to show the contrast before the work ends.

Weinberg’s second Flute Concerto was one of the last works he wrote, but as if to emphasise the neglect his music inexplicably suffered it was not given a first performance until 2001, 14 years after its completion. The work opens with one of the most bewitching melodies the composer ever wrote and that is a statement that is meaningful since Weinberg seemed able to write the most sublime tunes at the drop of a pen. The melody holds its own despite the orchestra seeming to attempt to divert it along a more convoluted path. In the second movement a darker place is described, in complete contrast to the outer movements, though beauty is still in evidence. The finale resumes Weinberg’s jaunty nature which is the prevalent trademark of his music overall. Quotations from Bach’s ‘Badinerie’ from his Second Orchestral Suite and Gluck’s Orfeo and Euridice are hinted at and the flute then leads the way to the work’s conclusion.

Weinberg’s 12 Pieces for Flute & Orchestra and his Five pieces for Flute and Piano date from 1947 and can be considered early works but they each show how much he had already learned. The 12 pieces, originally written for flute and piano, were orchestrated in 1983. They are delicious miniatures which already show his understanding of the instrument’s capabilities; the longest is a mere 2 minutes long but each is a whole world of beauty and invention. A variety of moods is described from puckish to reflective, joyful to sad but with Weinberg’s apparent unending ability to find ravishingly tuneful ways to express them. Richard Whitehouse describes the last piece, a Pastorale which at 2 minutes is the longest, as “…the most extended as well as melodically appealing of all these pieces, and hence an appropriate means of rounding off this slight though appealing opus.” By ‘slight’ I believe he meant in terms of emotional content rather than regarding it as lightweight for Weinberg always manages to demonstrate a mastery of melodic invention and to combine it with wistful nostalgia as much as puckish joy or innate sadness and this work shows this facility as much as any.

The final items on this disc are the Five pieces for Flute and Piano in which Claudia Stein is joined by Elizaveta Blumina. The first begins with a quote from Debussy’s La fille aux cheveux de lin; that is an interesting thought because many of Weinberg’s melodies are as gorgeous as Debussy’s and that’s saying something. This quote remains on display through this opener. Two dances follow, the first a brief affair whilst the second at over 6 minutes is by far the longest piece; in the latter the piano asserts its role as partner rather than pure accompanist and as Richard Whitehouse points out this piece is “…essentially an arrangement of Weinberg’s Capriccio for string quartet written four years earlier…” I always believe that if a composer has created an especially beautiful tune it is a great idea to bring it back in a different guise; if something is worth saying it is worth saying more than once. The Melodie is a superbly beautiful one and the flute carries it throughout with the piano receding into the background. The final piece, a third dance, is a jaunty tune that emphatically shows the flute’s puckish nature; it is highly virtuosic and finishes off the work and the disc in a pointed flourish.

This disc is not simply a must hear but it demands repeated listening for it includes some of the most gorgeous tunes any composer has given this most songlike instrument. Weinberg shows mastery of the flute’s ability to show a whole gamut of emotions and moods and Claudia Stein is a perfect vehicle to bring out all the nuanced elements Weinberg has put into these delightful works. Both Elizaveta Blumina in the Five pieces for Flute and Piano and the Szczecin Philharmonic under David Robert Coleman give great support to the soloist throughout.

In the past Naxos often chose to use mostly unknown soloists and orchestras and some critics once disparagingly wrote this off as simply an attempt to reduce costs. I am glad to say they don’t any more since, over the years many artists and orchestras Naxos have employed have deservedly risen in the music loving public’s estimation and have Naxos to thank for doing so.
Steve Arloff

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