National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Katowice
Recorded March 2003 in the Grzegorz Fitelberg Concert Hall, Katowice
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 10128 Duration: 68 minutes Reviewed: December 2003
Mieczyslaw Weinberg Symphonies (1)
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
Eerie and restless, growing in strength and intensity before Shostakovichian irony takes hold; fugitive trumpets, lonely instrumental solos forced, desperate music. A banned symphony comes to mind, Shostakovichs No.4, as Weinberg unfurls his symphonys first movement. And, indeed, there is a strong Shostakovich relationship.
Mieczyslaw Weinberg, aka Moshe Vainberg, born in Warsaw in 1919 emigrated to Russia in 1939, a war-related decision, and eventually came to Moscow in 1943, at Shostakovichs invitation, where he remained until his death in 1996.
A mutual respect, friendship and working relationship developed between the two men. That Weinberg became impressionable of the older and more famous composer is undeniable, yet Weinbergs Fifth Symphony, from 1962, although in one sense declaring itself in similar circumstances to Shostakovichs, seems more free of self and parades an engrossing symphonic statement of linear direction, often spare yet kaleidoscopic in instrumental colour, with an expressional capability that is more objective and universal than some of Shostakovichs output.
Whether this holds good for Weinbergs other 21 symphonies remains to be heard. Chandos has started with a gripping example in No.5, a 45-minute, four-movement work of compelling invention and sonority. Its not obviously a Russian work, the Shostakovichian connection is more to do with similar expressive and punctuating devices; rather theres a Scandinavian patina to this particular symphony, post-Nielsen, one that reminds of Koppel and Holmboe. There are nightmarish connections to Nielsens Sixth Symphony too, further reminders of Shostakovich 4, and anticipations of Shostakovichs greatest symphony, No.15, written a decade after this Weinberg symphony. No doubt, as Chandoss cycle continues, we shall be able to compare and contrast the two mens symphonic oeuvres.
These very sympathetic performances from Katowice, cleanly and vividly recorded, begin a very welcome series. The Sinfonietta (1948), more obviously Jewish in character, was just what the dictator ordered; this acceptable work for Soviet times is great fun, even if one keeps in mind any possible political ciphers. Whether coded or not, this work is attractive, popular in cast, and should find many friends.