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Weinberg: Chamber Symphony No 1 & 4 / Thord Svedlund, Umea Symphony Orchestra

Release Date: 01/13/2009 
Label:  Musical Concepts   Catalog #: 1036   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Mieczyslaw Weinberg
Conductor:  Thord Svedlund
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Umeå Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WEINBERG Chamber Symphonies: No. 1; No. 4 Thord Svedlund, cond; Bengt Sandström (cl); Umeå SO ALTO 1036 (62:10)

The four chamber symphonies of Moisey Weinberg are textural hybrids, at times variously reminiscent in sound and content of their creator’s approach to both the symphony and quartet mediums. I’ve also been reminded over the years when listening to these works of Beethoven’s late quartets, in their chimerical shifts of expressive content and inventive formal structure.
The Chamber Symphony No. 1 was completed in 1986. The liner notes refer to its “calm and peacefulness,” but I admit to not hearing that at all. Of the four works Weinberg composed in this genre, the First has the greatest expressive range. Unusually for its composer, the first movement is a half-tender, half-parodistic glance back at some late 18th-century musical clichés, given a more advanced harmonic treatment in the manner of Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony. The lengthy second movement, by contrast, is a meditation in two or three independent contrapuntal parts, of a type darker and more tormented than Weinberg usually employed. It is interrupted at a moment of intense pain by a downward sliding figuration that leads immediately into a skipping, ghostly Mahlerian scherzo. The meditation returns over the scherzo over a couple of minutes later, the two juxtaposed for a while without any attempt at reconciliation, before the former wins and hope gutters out.

The third movement is a drifting, balletic Allegretto, whose metrical variety and phrasing are curiously reminiscent at times of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex . It is pensive in character, with an air of impending tragedy that repeatedly threatens to break through. The finale recalls the “Classical” Symphony more specifically as homage this time in its first thematic group, directly in both its harmonic procedures and melodic contours. However, the second thematic group is grotesquely violent in its assault on a barely audible lyrical theme, twice invoking memories of the Andante with energy and anguish. The sudden appearance of a bland C Major at the movement’s conclusion is ambiguous at best, the kind of mordent, good-guys-win-because-we’re-told-they-do ending that Weinberg excelled in.

The Chamber Symphony No. 4, for clarinet and strings, was finished in 1992. It was the composer’s penultimate work, and a reflective one. It opens with a thinly sounded chorale, like distant church bells, that continues for over three mesmerizing minutes. The clarinet then appears in a delicate, balletic section, at first over pizzicato strings; but the movement ends in an air of quiet loss. A grimly aggressive Scherzo comes next, its counterweight appearing towards its conclusion in the form of a pair of haunting recitatives for solo violin and cello. At 10-and-a-half minutes, the work’s slow movement is the longest thing on the album, filled with yearning and despair. With the finale, the clarinet is given an Ashkenazi-like folk theme that seems oddly alien to its static, bitonal background. The liner notes refer to its ending as one of “transfigured peace,” but the lengthy, bare concluding chord that’s pecked at variously from notes on the major and minor scales doesn’t provide any easy resolution.

These performances were previously issued on Olympia 631. Though the information isn’t provided, they were recorded in the late 1990s, and were issued as part of an excellent series of Weinberg’s orchestral music that was unfortunately never taken to its conclusion. The sound quality isn’t noticeably different between the Olympia and the Alto, despite remastering. Fortunately, that’s not an issue, as the engineering was very good, warm and close to the microphone, if with just a bit too much solo spotlighting. It’s good to see these works back in print, though it should be noted that you can get both works, plus the Chamber Symphony No. 3, on a discontinued but still available disc with Rachlevsky/Kremlin Chamber Orchestra (Claves 9811). I find the Umeå musicians slightly superior to their Russian counterparts, but Rachlevsky is every bit as fine a conductor as is Svedlund in this music.

In short, you really can’t go wrong with this release. Definitely recommended.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Chamber Symphony no 1, Op. 145 by Mieczyslaw Weinberg
Conductor:  Thord Svedlund
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Umeå Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1986; Moscow 
Chamber Symphony no 4, Op. 153 by Mieczyslaw Weinberg
Conductor:  Thord Svedlund
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Umeå Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1992; Moscow 

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