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Mieczysław WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Chamber Symphony No.2, op.147 for string orchestra and timpani (1987) [21.59]
Chamber Symphony No.4, op.153 for string orchestra, clarinet and triangle (1990) [35.38]
Igor Federov (clarinet)
East-West Chamber Orchestra/Rotislav Krimer
rec. Grand Hall of the Belarus State Philharmonic, Minsk, 10-11 October 2019
NAXOS 8.574210 [58.06]

A while ago, in 2019, I had the pleasure of reviewing the Naxos recording of the Chamber Symphonies 1 and 3 (Naxos 8.574063) by the same forces, with a strong recommendation. The new recording completes the set, and it is at least as strong as its predecessor, recorded a year earlier.

The earlier recording marked the recording debut of the East-West Chamber Orchestra. Players are drawn from across the world for the Yuri Bashmet International Music Festival, and the Chamber Orchestra members are soloists and/or leaders in their own right. Their virtuosity is a given, but musicianship goes much more deeply, in feeling, sensitivity and concentration. It is difficult to think these performances will be surpassed.

No. 2 was composed in the same year as the first (Op.145). No. 1 was dedicated to the memory of his mother and sister, who were probably killed in Traniki in 1943, and has its own darkness. That work was very largely a reworking of Weinberg’s Second Quartet from 1940, though heavily revised and with a new third movement inserted. In the Second Symphony, the inspiration was his third quartet, Op.14, but the reworking is more substantial. The Chamber Symphony is in three movements, with the central slow movement of Op.14 reworked as the sombre finale, and an entirely new second movement, incorporating parts for the timpani. One might think of the general character as lyrically sombre: the ending is terse and dark, but the overall sense is of melancholy beauty and quiet dignity.

No. 4 is no less sombre, written under the shadow of failing health. It differs from its predecessors in significant ways: the four movements are played without break, so that there is a strong sense of an overall, meditative arch leading to a final sense of resignation and acceptance. Some moments recall klezmer music, as in the lively but not sunny second movement, but overall, the tone is one of restrained quiet eloquence. Unlike the other chamber symphonies, in this there is no link to earlier quartets (No.3 has three movements based on the Fifth Quartet). The work was written quickly, between 30th April and 12th May 1992. To the orchestra is added an obbligato clarinet (in A), especially prominent in the second movement. The triangle is heard only four times, and only in the slow Finale, but has the very last word.

The recording ambience is warm and sympathetic, and congratulations are due to Richard Whitehouse for his lucid and informative notes.

If you are unfamiliar with the world of Weinberg, this recording would be a great place to begin, but it is a major contribution to the Weinberg discography, to be sought out – with its companion - by any music lover.

Michael Wilkinson

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