The Mieczysław Weinberg discography continues to expand apace with two first recordings from the redoubtable Toccata Classics label, Dmitry Vasilyev and the Siberian Symphony Orchestra making as favourable an impression as on their previous disc of Symphony 21 and the Polish Suite.
Despite its ‘Choreographic Symphony’ subtitle, there is little intrinsically symphonic about the Six Ballet Scenes that Weinberg created in 1973 largely out of music from his ballet The White Chrysanthemum from fifteen years earlier. Its scenario of caring association between Japan and the Soviet Union likely derailed the project almost from the outset, with the absence of a full score suggesting it was left in abeyance when no production was secured. What emerged here is a half-hour sequence whose six movements interpolate extracts from the ballet along with new material, the former’s relative accessibility being placed in a frequently acerbic and quirkily orchestrated context. Not too provocative for Soviet music of its era, this engaging piece failed to find favour and seems to have remained unheard until the present recording.
It makes a viable coupling for Symphony No.22, which was Weinberg’s final undertaking in 1994 and left un-orchestrated at his death two years later. This was carried out in 2002 by Kirill Umansky (born 1962) and premiered in Moscow the following November, a detail omitted in David Fanning’s monograph, “Mieczysław Weinberg: In Search of Freedom” (Wolke Verlag: 2010).
Symphonic writing dominated Weinberg’s last creative years, with three Symphonies and four Chamber Symphonies (the first three of the latter re-working, in whole or in part, his Second, Third and Fifth String Quartets) constituting a valedictory sub-group pervaded by echoes and recollections. The present work follows on naturally from the respective ambivalence and anguish of its two predecessors, drawing on No.20’s formal obliquity and No.21’s expressive immediacy in a 40-minute entity that, whether or not consciously intended as such by the composer, has a summative quality which Umansky catches unerringly through his idiomatic orchestration: those wary of such realisations can rest assured that this ranks among the most convincing.
It helps that Vasilyev and his players are wholly inside this absorbing piece, beginning with a ‘Fantasia’ that occupies almost two-thirds of the whole and unfolds from an almost somnolent opening to take in allusions to Weinberg operas The Idiot and The Passenger as it builds to a baleful climax in what is as keenly focussed a symphonic opening movement as Weinberg penned. If the restless ‘Intermezzo’ that follows is unduly terse to act as a fulcrum within this context, it generates sufficient momentum such as carries over into the final ‘Reminiscences’; its covert reprise of earlier ideas bringing about a powerful apotheosis capped by visceral chorale-like music, and whose prolonged fading against a backdrop of speculative cello pizzicatos audibly expands on the close of the Fourth Chamber Symphony for a leave-taking of potent resolve.
An often-impressive work, then, and assuredly no mere adjunct to Weinberg’s output. Fanning and Umansky contribute informative notes – with the latter’s Concerto for Orchestra a piece worthy of Toccata’s attention.