A glance through the booklet confirms this to be no ‘crossover’ release such as (too) often dominates DG’s schedule, but one befitting the debut on this label by a leading conductor from the younger generation as well as of the composer whose centenary it commemorates.
Having already confirmed her rapport with the music of Mieczysław Weinberg through her reading of his valedictory Fourth Chamber Symphony (ECM), Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla again directs Kremerata Baltica in the composer’s Second Symphony. Written in 1946 but not performed for eighteen years, this is surely the finest of Weinberg’s earlier such works in its formal economy and expressive focus; three movements of roughly equal length which alternate between eloquence and anxiety, sombreness and radiance, then pathos and irony.
Qualities realised here with greater acuity than on the previous recording by Thord Svedlund with the Umeå Symphony (Alto), even if Gražinytė-Tyla’s emphasis on its introspection (as in the codas of the outer movements) aligns this piece more closely with Weinberg’s music four decades hence than with those large-scale works preceding it. A pity no recording of the premiere (by no less than Kurt Sanderling) seems to have survived, though no-one new to the work is unlikely to be unresponsive to the dedication and insight of this impressive account. ★★★★
Completed in 1991, the Twenty-First Symphony has a genesis stretching back some quarter-century – which, along with its allusions to Chopin, Mahler and several of Weinberg’s own pieces, makes for an undeniably summative statement. Lasting for almost fifty-five minutes, its six continuous movements unfold in parallel to the formal divisions of the Jewish prayer for the departed which provides the subtitle (albeit one entered into the composer’s catalogue rather than on the score); though no less striking is the process of constant and incremental development informing every aspect of its content and overall design. If the recourse to his final film-score – for Boris Yermolayev’s wartime tragedy Our Father – furnishes emotional context, this piece is no less the culmination of Weinberg’s long-term symphonic evolution.
An earlier recording from Dmitry Vasilyev with the Siberian Symphony (Toccata Classics) made a strong case for the work yet is readily surpassed here in terms of technical finesse but also of formal integration and sustained expressive conviction. This is substantially the same performance Gražinytė-Tyla gave with the CBSO during November last year, with Gidon Kremer taking the several violin solos and notable contributions for clarinet, double bass and piano allotted to principals from the Birmingham Orchestra and the Kremerata Baltica. That live account unsatisfactorily divided the crucial soprano vocalise between singer and treble soloists and is sung instead by the conductor whose faultless intonation and timbral nuance help ensure those final minutes feel truly spellbinding in their emotional resonance. ★★★★★
Superbly recorded, with spaciousness yet no lack of clarity or definition, and well annotated, this is certain to be the essential Weinberg release during the year of his centenary. Listeners may well find themselves echoing Gražinytė-Tyla, for whom “The journey has just begun.’’