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Mieczysław WAJNBERG (1919-1996)
Symphony No. 2 for string orchestra, Op.30 [36:35]
Symphony No. 7 for string orchestra and harpsichord in C major, Op.81 [30:38]
Dorota Frąckowiak-Kapata (harpsichord)
Orkiestra Kameralna Polskiego Radia Amadeus/Anna Duczmal-Mrůz
rec. 2019, University Hall – Concert Hall of the Poznań Philharmonic, Poland
DUX 1631 [67:15]

After recently reviewing the second instalment of the chamber symphonies of Wajnberg by the same artists, here we are faced with some meatier works in the form of two symphonies. Unfortunately this good recording of the Second Symphony has some very good and recent competition in the form of the Kremerata Baltica’s recent recording with Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (review), whose recording of the 2nd and 21st Symphonies went on to win many plaudits, and listening to it you can understand why. This in some ways is an odd symphony, as it has no real fast music, the first movement, with its melancholic opening which, whilst marked Allegro moderato, is certainly more ‘moderato’ than ‘allegro’. This present recording is slightly longer than Gražinytė-Tyla’s, with the majority of the extra time, some minute and a half, being in the first movement, and whilst the drawing out of the tension created by the extra time is very good, this is a device that Wajnberg introduces about five minutes in, but it never gets too fast. I do find that the DG recording’s more concise version tends to add to the power of the movement.

The second and third movements are only marginally slower than Gražinytė-Tyla, with the second a true Adagio. It roughly follows the same structure as the first movement, with the composer gradually ramping up the pressure and the emotion in the music. The structure of the third movement, an Allegretto, is different to the others, although it to begins pensively. The music here, as it develops, is expressive and is the closest we get to quick music, with the use of pizzicato and sawing strings making for some of the most interesting music of the whole symphony. As already stated, the tempos are similar in both these two movements, with the result being that there is little to choose between the two recordings, although I would say that the Kremerata Baltica sound a little more drilled with the result being that they sound a little bit tighter. If Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla wins the day it is not by much; perhaps just a bit sharper in the transitions in the first movement which gives the Allegro section a little more emphasis, but this is still a pleasing performance.

The Symphony No.7 is in reality, a sinfonia concertante, with the harpsichord introducing the first movement with a short solo section, this is a modern sounding instrument with a timbre suited to twentieth century works. Here, this recording starts well, with Dorota Frąckowiak-Kapata’s instrument sounding less cold and metallic than Erik Risberg’s does for Thord Svedlund on Chandos (CHSA 5078), and from what I can remember of the old Olympia version, I think it was slightly spoilt by an over reverberant acoustic, although I do remember the Soviet strings making up for this, after this, and whilst there are times that the harpsichord is more prominent it largely plays a supporting role. The performance is insightful with the interpretation of the second movement Allegro – Adagio sostenuto being particularly fine, especially as it glides into the slower section whilst the angular harpsichord is played really well. The movement sets up the central Adagio movement which is then followed by another slow Adagio sostenuto movement with its dramatic opening and its almost pessimistic ending in the bass register, with these three movements being the heart of the Symphony as a whole. The final and longest movement, when it comes sounds to me at first like a bit of an afterthought, its bright opening followed by a section of rippling strings which is then picked up by the harpsichord sounding a bit brash when compared to what has gone before. This is however, another Allegro – Adagio sostenuto and when the slower section comes in seems to draw the whole work together.

The playing on the whole is very good, with the Orkiestra Kameralna Polskiego Radia Amadeus (Amadeus Chamber Orchestra of Polish Radio) and Anna Duczmal-Mrůz really at home in this music, especially in Symphony No.7. All in all, this is a very good disc, one which as a combination of symphonies works well. If you are looking just for the Second Symphony then go for the Gražinytė-Tyla, but if you are looking for the composer in general, then this disc would grace any collection, especially with the excellent No.7. The recorded sound is excellent as are the brief but informative booklet notes.

Stuart Sillitoe

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