Notes and Editorial Reviews
Written at the height of the era of "Soviet Realism" in the USSR, when composers were being criticized or banned for music deemed "formalistic", Mieczyslaw Weinberg's Symphony No. 3 embraces the dictum of positiveness that called for an avoidance of the cerebral qualities of Western art music and urged the embrace of Russian folk song to be incorporated into symphonic works, the latter actually being a pre-revolutionary tradition held over from Czarist times. Though written to please the cultural commissars and endowed with melodic ideas of immediate appeal and directness, the work also has a darker undercurrent that surfaces from time to time, especially in the more militant and rhythmically driven last movement. This
gives the symphony an unusually wide aesthetic range from a light pops concert atmosphere to occasionally stark, serious expression.
Suite No. 4 from the ballet "The Golden Key", a puppet ballet loosely based on Pinocchio is also tuneful and of interest for its somewhat eccentric dances, (a "Cricket" dance consists of little less than a minute of a single, rhythmically odd, continuously repeated hopping motive,) as well as folk-like dances with a rustic quality. If Weinberg in these works had been a Western composer of that era the music would often be considered light pops concert fare with bright, straight-forward tunefulness, not unlike popular movie or TV music, yet at times there is a darker undercurrent that occasionally surfaces. We know from other Weinberg works that he was capable of music of considerable emotional depth. This occasional faint uneasiness might have been sensed in these otherwise tuneful works, for Weinberg himself withdrew his Third Symphony before the premiere to correct "errors" and later edited and revised it and the ballet, though eventually accepted by a Soviet dance company was not staged. Both were performed some ten years later and after Stalin's death. Interesting, eccentric and appealing music that comes from living through a dangerous period.
- Greg La Traille, ArkivMusic.com
Symphony No. 3.
The Golden Key:
Suite No. 4
Thord Svedlund, cond; Gothenburg SO
CHANDOS 5089 (49:53)
Mieczyslaw Weinberg found it easier than most composers in the late 1940s and early 1950s to comply with the vague yet dangerously contradictory goals of the Zhdanov Doctrine. He had a naturally lyrical gift, a clear sense of structure, and an ability to write simply, with complete focus. Paying uncomplicated tribute to folk music without a hint of condescension was easy for him, though of course it came easier in smaller forms than larger ones. That was why a plethora of such works as the
Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes
Polish Themes, Serenade for Orchestra
Fantasy for Cello and Orchestra
, along with various concertinos and sonatinas grace Weinberg’s list of compositions at that time. But the Symphony No. 3 was a bid for popularity in a big, mainstream work. It was not to get a chance to grow an audience, unfortunately, as Stalin’s paranoia over Jews (and Poles, Ukrainians, and just about every other group he could imagine) denied Weinberg a performance. It had to await the so-called “cultural thaw” under Krushchev for its debut in 1960. I can find no other currently available recordings of the work.
The Symphony No. 3 is very much of its time and place, as you’d expect. The dissonant elements of the First Symphony, the gritty anguish of the Second, the complexities of counterpoint and the emotional ambiguity of both, are nowhere to be found. The work is formally non-programmatic, but it’s all to easy to hear the “youth” theme (a standard formula in many composers’ Soviet pieces of the period, a naively cheerful melody with a flattened seventh and little else to offer the world) in the first movement and the minor-key, slightly dissonant obstacles it faces as a tribute to the Young Soviet Facing the Tide of Obstruction and Overcoming. To Weinberg’s credit, his youth theme is the most graceful I’ve heard, and his orchestral writing is a delight throughout. The attractive Scherzo includes a Polish mazurka, along with a few fine examples of counterpoint imbedded as folk improvisation, while the Adagio is a threnody displaying Khachaturian’s gift for emotional directness without descending into mawkishness: pathos, not bathos. The finale returns to the battlefield of the opening Allegro, with curious overtones of Shostakovich’s Fifth and Sixth. It ends not with the triumphalism one might expect, but with a grim “soldiering on” attitude that doesn’t quite fit with or summarize everything that’s gone before.
The Golden Key
was finished in 1955, two years after Stalin’s sudden death (and Weinberg’s resultant freedom from prison). The satirical tale of the puppet lovers Burattino and Malvina, who after facing several animal and human antagonists encourage the other puppets to revolt, would seem tailor-made for the composer’s talents, but Weinberg found it surprisingly difficult to gain acceptance for the score. When the Stanislavski and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater finally accepted it in 1955, it took another seven years before staging
The Golden Key
—and then, only with a largely reworked scenario. Weinberg, like Prokofiev, knew the value of a good ballet suite, and he wrote four in 1964 that accessed music from the original and the revised versions. This, the fourth suite (presumably others will appear in future releases in this series), is a tuneful delight. My favorites are the dance of the two animal villains, Alice the Fox and Basilio(!) the Cat, a nose-thumbing, heavily accented folk piece; and “The Pursuit,” with its nod at Prokofiev’s
Romeo and Juliet.
Thord Svedlund is in strong form on this release, emphasizing orchestral color, clarity, and internal balance. He doesn’t miss any of the humor in the Third Symphony’s Scherzo or several of the ballet’s dances, but also doesn’t shortchange the emotional appeal of the former’s Adagio and the latter’s Elegy. The Gothenberg musicians play with delicacy and character. This certainly isn’t the most representative disc of Weinberg to come down the musical pike, as more attention is finally paid to this excellent composer, but it may prove to be the one with the greatest overall appeal to general classical listeners. My only reservation is the short timing. At less than 50 minutes, was there nothing else Weinberg composed for orchestra that could have been included?
Regardless, definitely recommended.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
This latest CD volume from Chandos makes for another outstanding contribution to their unique survey of Weinberg’s symphonies and pleasure is diffused only slightly by the short playing time.
The playing by the Gothenburgers is exemplary. This is early Weinberg - at least the
Third Symphony is. It's a 30-plus minute, four movement, B minor piece written in 1950 and revised in 1959. The first movement sports a tickling forward-pressing motif. This is clothed sweetly, at first, but the atmosphere becomes gradually more determined and warlike-heroic with a sideways glance at Shostakovich's
Leningrad. It's extremely exciting and might be thought of as comparable to the first symphonies of Sviridov and Dvarionas among others. It is not as belligerent as these other examples; certainly the sweet oboe pastoral (I 6:20) is far more gentle than anything found in those other works. Something of dancing snowflakes in this but also of warm pine forests. A chill sets in towards the end of the movement. There's a playful sprinting and flittering allegro giocoso and this can be contrasted with a potently sustained and meditative gloom. There’s tenderness in the Adagio (III) which is almost as long as the first movement. The clarinet solos have a plangently woody bubble and the theme seems a byway off the Volga Boatmen’s Song. This ends in a becalmed murmur from the strings. The finale returns to the implacably sturdy fast-pulsed mood of the heroic first movement. This is a splendidly rich recording with a nice throaty roar to the brass.
This revised version of the Symphony was premiered by Aleksandr Gauk conducting the All-Union Radio and TV Symphony Orchestra in Moscow on 23 March 1960.
The Golden Key was a ballet written in 1954-55 to a fairy fable scenario by Aleksey Tolstoy (1882-1945). In this format the music was premiered on 10 June 1962. Two years later Weinberg extracted for suites of which this is the last. The music is full of Petrushkan character, gawky, winningly elegiac (tr. 6 with its oboe singer), impudently Respighian (tr. 7) and ruthlessly driven (The Rat). The final Pursuit movement combines iterative obsessional onrush with an innocence absent from the assaults of the Symphony’s first and final movements
Every part of this production shouts quality. The notes are by David Fanning whose knowledge of the music and the era must be second to none. Svedlund knows the Weinberg works well having already recorded many of them so he is a reliable and inspired guide
If you enjoy Russian music of the mid and first half of the last century then you need to hear this. It's by no means garish poster material and its depth and accessible grip may surprise.
– Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 3 in B minor, Op. 45 by Mieczyslaw Weinberg
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
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