Mieczyslaw Weinberg Symphonies (1)

0 of 5 stars

Sinfonietta No.1, Op.41
Symphony No.5, Op.76

National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Katowice
Gabriel Chmura

Recorded March 2003 in the Grzegorz Fitelberg Concert Hall, Katowice

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: December 2003
Duration: 68 minutes

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, Shostakovich’s No.4, as Weinberg unfurls his symphony’s 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 Shostakovich’s 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 Weinberg’s Fifth Symphony, from 1962, although in one sense declaring itself in similar circumstances to Shostakovich’s, 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 Shostakovich’s output.

Whether this holds good for Weinberg’s 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. It’s not obviously a Russian work, the Shostakovichian connection is more to do with similar expressive and punctuating devices; rather there’s a Scandinavian patina to this particular symphony, post-Nielsen, one that reminds of Koppel and Holmboe. There are nightmarish connections to Nielsen’s Sixth Symphony too, further reminders of Shostakovich 4, and anticipations of Shostakovich’s greatest symphony, No.15, written a decade after this Weinberg symphony. No doubt, as Chandos’s cycle continues, we shall be able to compare and contrast the two men’s 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.

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