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Mieczysław WAJNBERG (1919-1996)
Chamber Symphony No. 2 for string orchestra and timpani, Op. 147 (1987) [24:09]
Chamber Symphony No. 4 for string orchestra, clarinet and triangle, Op. 153 (1992) [37:28]
Sinfonietta No. 2 for string orchestra and timpani, Op.74 (1960) [19:11]
Concerto No. 2 for flute and string orchestra, Op. 148 bis (1987) [18:49]
Kornel Wolak (clarinet)
Łukasz Długosz (flute)
Beata Słomian (triangle)
Piotr Szulc (timpani)
Amadeus Chamber Orchestra of Polish Radio/Anna Duczmal-Mrůz
rec. 2015-2019, University Hall – Concert Hall of the Poznań Philharmonic, Poland
DUX 1632/3 [61:38 + 38:01]

A confusing figure, Mieczysław Wajnberg can appear in a collection as Mieczysław Weinberg, the usual spelling outside Poland, and also as Moishei Vainberg - but rest assured, however it appears, it is the same composer. The question is, therefore, whether to file him under V or W. Despite having representations of all three variants in my collection I tend to plump for Weinberg, as it is the one spelling that most recordings of his music tend to appear under most frequently; however, when it comes to reviews I will always use the spelling of the name used on the recording.

Polish-born Soviet composer Wajnberg was great friends with Shostakovich, and, like him, was a leading light in the Soviet music scene, composing twenty-six symphonies, seventeen string quartets and numerous instrumental sonatas, although he began receiving recognition for his work in the West only relatively late in his career.

Wajnberg composed his four chamber symphonies in the last decade of his life, the first three being transcriptions of early string quartets, while the Fourth was created anew. Anna Duczmal-Mrůz and the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra of Polish Radio have already released a recording of Nos. 1 and 3 coupled with the Flute Concerto Op. 75 (DUX1525 - review), so this present recording, which has been released in the UK slightly after what would have been the composers hundredth birthday in December 2019, is the culmination of their recording project, and on this evidence I will be more than interested to hear the earlier recording.

Composed the year after No. 1, the Second Chamber Symphony, an arrangement of the String Quartet No. 3 of 1944, is quite dramatic and has an intensity which belies the epithet of “chamber”. Here, Wajnberg expands the string sound of the original whilst augmenting it with the addition of timpani, which does add that little something. My friend and colleague, Stephen Greenbank, in his review of Gidon Kremer’s account of all four chamber symphonies for ECM (4814604), talks of “The opening movement’s intensity derives from its bold, assertive rhythms” and that is something exploited here, as these generally slower-paced performances certainly crank up the tension. The second movement is largely based on original material and employs short melodic episodes over slow strings in a sort of ground bass, with a short solo section for the unnamed solo violinist. In keeping with the sombre feel of the work, the third and final movement is very atmospheric, and concludes with a final beat of the timpani. I have always wished for a little more from the timpani in this work and this recording is no different, but that is more to do with the work than Piotr Szulc. However, I do feel that Gidon Kremer is more noticeable in the writing for solo violin than we get here.

We had to wait for five years after the Second until Wajnberg completed the fourth and final String Symphony – indeed, his last completed work. As mentioned above, it is not based upon an earlier work, although echoes of other compositions can be detected in the music. The driven string sound remains, while the clarinet is used to great effect – I’m not too sure about the triangle, though. The opening movement of the work draws, at least in part, on material from his wonderful seventeenth String Quartet, especially in the writing for the clarinet. This is followed by a quite different sound-world, which perhaps celebrates his friendship with Shostakovich. The third movement is more elegiac, with the solo clarinet weaving what is almost a lament through the strings. The finale, by contrast, brings us back to his Jewish upbringing, as a Jewish-sounding folk melody soon gives way to more klezmer-inspired music which would have been familiar to Wajnberg through his father Shmil, or Samuel, a well-known and respected conductor in the Jewish theatre.

The second disc offers two works new to me. Although there are 27 years between the composition of the Sinfonietta No. 2 for String Orchestra and Timpani. and the completion of the String Symphony No. 2, they occupy a similar sound world, their dark, brooding strings being punctuated by the timpani. The Sinfonietta consists of four compact movements; however, it is only in the first movement that we get any form of dialogue between those instruments which hold the theme and those which act as a sort of ground bass. The Concerto is performed here in an arrangement for flute and strings of the fully orchestrated work of 1987 which appeared not long after the Chamber Symphony No. 2. It opens with a lyrically melodic theme which becomes more fragmented as the movement proceeds until the melody finally wins through. Wajnberg then develops this idea throughout the remaining two movements of what becomes a most attractive and compact work. I will have to track down a recording of the fully orchestrated Concerto, so that I can compare it with my now ancient recording of the First.

I prefer the Kremer version of the chamber symphony on ECM, as the generally brisker tempi add an extra tautness to the performance; however, this new recording offers an interesting and valuable alternative: the way in which Anna Duczmal-Mrůz cranks up the tension, especially in No. 2, works very well indeed, and the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra respond well to her direction. The two works featured on disc two makes this a welcome release.

Stuart Sillitoe

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