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Mieczyslaw WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Cello Concerto, Op 43 (1956) [33:19]
Fantasy Op. 52 (1952) [17:08]
Concertino Op. 43bis (1948) [16:30]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra/Lukasz Borowicz
rec. 2018, Kilden Performing Arts Centre, Kristiansand, Norway.
CPO 555 234-2 [67:02]

Mieczyslaw Weinberg wrote in his work catalogue that the Cello Concerto was written in 1948, but other documentation shows the date as 1956, which would be logical given its premiere with Mstislav Rostropovich early in 1957. Weinberg’s troubled life under the Soviet regime has been well documented, and the end of the war saw no let-up in the very real dangers faced by artists and others. The Concertino is an earlier version of the Cello Concerto, so we get a double dose of that jaw-droppingly lamenting opening movement, the full concerto in general having a more significant part for the orchestra. Interestingly an alternative recording on the CPO label Marina Tarasova with the Musica Viva Chamber Orchestra (review) gives an added track number to the Adagio movement that brings us back to the material of the opening, whereas this CD incorrectly gives the impression of the work having only three movements. Both recordings are excellent, though I feel Tarasova captures the klezmer feel of the music more convincingly than Wallfisch.

The Fantasy was written in a dark period of Weinberg’s life just prior to a three-month spell of imprisonment after being charged with “Jewish-bourgeois nationalism”. This substantial piece opens with a rather gloomy mood and is generally weighty in its expressiveness, though there is some lovely lyricism and the feel of dance in its underlying rhythmic movement, a slow waltz that breaks out into an elegant Viennese tempo that never quite shakes off the soulful melancholy of the whole – there is a smile, but the eyes betray sorrow, and the final pages return us to the slower tempo of the opening into a gorgeous coda.

There are one or two recordings of Weinberg’s Cello Concerto around, and I suspect fans will already know about that of Claes Gunnarsson and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra on the Chandos label (review). The first movement is stunningly expressive and deserves instant classic status, being as movingly emotive as anything by Shostakovich. There is something in its funereal tread that reminds me of the final scene of Poulenc’s Dialogue des Carmelites. Dance rhythms and Jewish flavour inhabits this work throughout, and even with the arguably ‘Soviet-optimistic’ nature of some of the material this remains a remarkable piece and deeply personal statement. Raphael Wallfisch and the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra deliver an excellent performance, and this is a very satisfying CD all-round. There is however something about the CPO recording that leaves me a little discomforted. Comparing it with the Chandos version there is a sensation that Wallfisch’s cello is in a different space to the orchestra, and this constriction both takes the edge from the soloist’s integration with the orchestral sound, and at times inflates it sound beyond concert-hall credibility. On its own this is perhaps not the most significant point and this is a recording with which one can live very happily, but the Chandos version does have a more natural feel, and one which brings out details such as the growling low basses in the opening movement more effectively. Timings and tempi are comparable for both recordings aside from the Allegro third movement, which Gunnarsson takes much more quickly, shaving off just over a minute compared with Wallfisch. This results in a good deal of excitement but also a certain amount of scampering around amongst the players. Your personal taste will dictate which version meets your approval more, though there is little denying the visceral effectiveness of the more extreme contrasts that arise in the Chandos version as a result of this decision.

In the end, if the programme attracts then this is a good release to go for. As the booklet notes state, “the dispute concerning ‘modernity’ and ‘out-moded’ style or even concerning ‘originality’ as main criteria in the evaluation of music has clearly lost its force in the early years of the 21st century, with the result that Weinberg’s music has found many enthusiastic fans.” This recording will add fuel to his well-deserved revival. Anyone wanting the Concerto and Concertino together on one disc need not hesitate, and the Fantasy is also much more than a mere bonus.

Dominy Clements
 



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