Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
Symphonies: No. 1; No. 7
Thord Svedlund, cond; Gothenberg SO
CHANDOS 5078 (SACD: 64:41)
Weinberg’s Symphony No. 1 was composed in Tashkent in 1942, after much of the Soviet intelligentsia fled Russia and Ukraine before the German invasion. It was also to prove his calling card
to Shostakovich, earning the younger man a recommendation that would later allow him to settle in Moscow. It is a typically youthful artistic statement of intent, by which I mean that it crams as much opportunity to display learning and skill into as large a form as possible. As such, the seams show, all the more so in that Weinberg had recently encountered Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony for the first time. There is a clear division between the work’s neoclassical themes, for instance—reminiscent in their genteel mock-politeness of Prokofiev’s First (and in the Lento, of Mahler’s Fourth)—and the often expressive, dissonant, contrapuntal development of the first movement in particular, that recalls early Shostakovich. Each of the first three movements seems a bit overlong to sustain its weight, not from inadequate critical facility, but because its composer is unable to avoid including all the good inventions he’s discovered. Terseness is not a vernal virtue. I except the finale from this criticism, because it seems best-proportioned of all four of the movements. It’s a passacaglia cast as a theme and variations, though from another perspective, it’s a perpetual-motion machine calculated with both ingenuity and theatrical flair, and powered through contrapuntal verve.
The Symphony No. 7 inhabits another experiential world. Composed in 1964 and dedicated to Rudolf Barshai, its incorporation of Baroque elements—
recitative, a prominent harpsichord part, an “unbroken consort” of strings—complements Weinberg’s typically linear contrapuntal writing, and provides a realm of different colors for his typically expressive palette. (There’s also a pronounced influence of Bartók joining that of Shostakovich.) The five continuous movements employ ingenious thematic transformation to tread an emotional landscape of anxiety, somber reflection, and disillusionment. As is often the case in Weinberg’s mature work, there’s no psychological resolution. At best, as here, there’s an awareness of distance traveled, and temporary rest.
I’ve liked Thord Svedlund’s work in previous releases of Weinberg’s music, including the First and Fourth Chamber Symphonies on Alto 1036, and several concertos on Chandos 5064. He emphasizes clarity, textural balance, and a respect for the composer’s musical intentions. Which is why I was caught out here by Svedlund’s oddly stolid treatment of the First Symphony’s finale, marked
allegro con fuoco
; the conductor takes it instead at a fast
clip, without any urgency in the phrasing. The result is under-energized, and ineffective. On the other hand, the lengthy scherzo finale of the Seventh Symphony provides an opportunity to hear what Svedlund and his fine Gothenburg musicians can do when properly motivated. The ghostly then feverish first half of the movement is carefully built up, with all its “night music” aspects given their proper display, while the finale’s second half is treated with a chamber-like lyricism that is all the more affecting for its restraint.
Recommended, then, despite the lapse noted above, with a nod of thanks to both Chandos and Svedlund for continuing their exploration of Weinberg’s musical legacy.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
When the Germans attacked his home country in 1939, the Polish composer Mieczys?aw Weinberg escaped to Russia. Then Russia became involved in the war, so he again fled from Minsk to Tashkent in Uzbekistan.
When Weinberg sent the manuscript of his First Symphony to Shostakovich, the older composer was so impressed that he helped to arrange for a permit allowing Weinberg to settle in Moscow. The two men became close friends, regularly showing their new works to each other, Shostakovich acting as a kind of mentor to Weinberg.
However, it would be wrong to simply assume that Weinberg's music is heavily indebted to Shostakovich's. In fact, there was considerable cross-influence between the two. Weinberg had been particularly stunned by Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony, but his own music only shows a degree of influence while asserting its own attractive individuality. Nevertheless, as David Fanning writes in his concise and informative notes: “the general notion of a new lyrical neoclassicism, capable of speaking to the human condition in the mid-twentieth century, was evidently an inspiring one.” To make merely the most general comparison between the two composers, I would say that Weinberg's is brighter, rather more optimistic and genial, less heavily tinged with bitterness or sarcasm and avoiding Shostakovich's occasional bombast. He certainly has a voice of his own, as well as a refreshing ability to combine simplicity and originality. Weinberg's lively imagination guarantees an element of surprise, also combining with his strong sense of overall direction consistently holding the attention.
The Symphony No.1 (dedicated to the Red Army) which so impressed Shostakovich is in four movements, the first being the longest and most weighty. The very opening illustrates Weinberg's gift for diatonic melody, while the second subject is in a contrasting
Larghetto tempo. A muscular development section affords Weinberg the space to exercise his contrapuntal skill.
Lento is deeply lyrical, with Weinberg's memorable melodic invention again evident. Occasionally this music suggests Mahler without the angst. In the scherzo, which has a rather delayed trio section, Weinberg's inspiration seems at a lower level but never less than engaging. Beginning with a vigorous unison passage, the finale has plenty of energy, drive, counterpoint and humour. Again one can easily hear what impressed Shostakovich, not least some piquant touches of orchestration. This is altogether a very attractive symphony of remarkable directness.
The Seventh Symphony of 1964 (dedicated to Rudolf Barshai) is one of several string symphonies Weinberg composed, though here a harpsichord is added. There are five movements playing without a break. How many symphonies open with unaccompanied harpsichord? This one does, but in fact the instrument plays a generally discreet rather than ostentatious role throughout the work. It is employed sparingly - indeed not at all during the third and fourth movements - often reflecting, or supporting in concerto grosso style.
Although 24 years separate the Seventh Symphony from the First, Weinberg's lyrical neo-classicism is still obvious. The five movements play without a break, the first being an initially serene
Adagio sostenuto which increases in intensity, returns to the harpsichord solo, then leads to an
Allegro - Adagio sostenuto. Derived from
material in the opening movement, the begins with a theme of initially narrow compass
which soon opens out. This develops into a movement which ranges widely in mood - from skittish to more earnest and purposeful. The Gothenburg players deliver this with considerable impact. The ending is calm, returning to the symphony's opening harpsichord solo.
Andante follows, its lack of urgency providing a foil for the short but intense fourth movement, another
Adagio sostenuto. The final movement begins wittily with quick repeated notes on the harpsichord before Weinberg further exercises the high-spirited, “unbuttoned”, humorous and unpredictable aspects of his musical character. The calm ending - another
Adagio sostenuto - incorporates a final recall of the harpsichord solo which began the symphony.
The Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra plays with conviction and fine ensemble. Admittedly, the occasional astronomically high violin writing does cause a little insecurity, but many orchestras outside the world's top dozen would be no less taxed. Dedicatee Barshai's own 1967 recording of the 7
th Symphony (in inferior sound) is irreplaceable, but Svedlund has made previous Weinberg recordings and demonstrates considerable authority.
This excellently recorded disc presents a good introduction for those unfamiliar with any of Weinberg's large output. I urge them to sample this music, which I found both immediately arresting and increasingly rewarding on repetition.
-- Philip Borg-Wheeler, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 1 in G minor, Op. 10 by Mieczyslaw Weinberg
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Symphony no 7, Op. 81 by Mieczyslaw Weinberg
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
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