VAINBERG Requiem • Vladimir Fedoseyev, cond; Elena Kelessidi (sop); Wiener Sängerknaben; Prague P Ch; Vienna SO • NEOS 11127 (60:46) Live: Bregenz 08/01/2010
A timely arrival, this. Recently, I was lucky enough to see Vainberg’s (also spelled Weinberg, and both spellings have entries in theRead more style="font-style:italic"> Fanfare Archive) The Passanger at English National Opera, a powerful event if ever there was one. This recording of his Requiem comes from the Bregenz Festival, where that opera was also given. The Requiem was not heard until 13 years after the composer’s death, in Liverpool in 2009, with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic under Thomas Sanderling.
There is a dark cloud over this Requiem (1965–67). The booklet notes link this piece with the composer’s Sixth Symphony. The pounding percussion and impassioned choral outbursts of the first movement (“Bread and Iron,” text by Dmitri Kedrin) give way to the spooky, harpsichord-dominated second movement, “And Then” (Lorca). Vainberg’s scoring is fascinating: Not only harpsichord, but celesta, piano, and mandolin are also included. There are passages of Shostakovich-like devastation, with lonely solo lines singing over static bass pedals, while the harmonic language moves from the tonal to the clusters of the third movement and back again. The massive contrasts of the third movement speak of emotions expressed in extremes, of held-in torment against primal screams. Many, surely, will find shadows of Shostakovich’s 13th Symphony here.
The extended orchestral passage in the third movement (“There Will Come Soft Rains,” text by Sara Teasdale from her collection Flame and Shadow, a depiction of a post-apocalyptic world in which Nature reclaims the planet after humanity has been eradicated) is magnificently shaped by conductor Vladimir Fedoseyev, whose pacing seems faultless throughout. The solo violin is perfectly placed against solo flute in one passage that moves, within the space of seconds, from despair to hope. This is music of conciliation. The third movement (Teasdale) and the fourth (Munetoshi Fukagawa) form the main body of the work (at 15:15 and 21:47, respectively). When it comes to the Fukagawa movement, there is a palpable desolation (an admirably schooled chorus against a small group of solo woodwinds makes a huge effect). The original annotator of the Liverpool performance (the critic and lecturer David Fanning) heard an orientalist tinge here in the use of vibraphone and mandolin. There is an extraordinary passage just before the 15-minute mark, a depiction of emptiness that dwarfs even Shostakovich’s best attempts. All credit to the choral forces here. There is a purity of line (boys’ voices and the main choral body) that fits Vainberg’s expressive canvas perfectly.
Elena Kelessidi is a superb soloist, as confident in her delivery as she is eloquent. The radio recording (ORF) is fabulously clean and true. Kelessidi’s contribution to the fifth movement (“People Walked,” Lorca) is magnificently urgent (her breathless lines set against a harpsichord and prepared for by energetic string pizzicati). The final movement, which follows on without a break, is “Sow the Seed” by Mikhail Dudin (1916–93, a Russian conformist poet). The Realist message is clear: seeds sown for the future after such devastation. The effect of the ululating figures of the movement’s opening, though, is that there is an underlying disturbance and, while the piece ends in E Major, it is hardly a happy ending; instead, the music resonates onward after the sound has stopped.
There is a caveat regarding this issue: I searched in vain for texts and translations. This is surely a major handicap in this music, which is in effect a cri de coeur. We need to know exactly the nature of that cry. That aside, this is a document of a major event. That it is Volume 3 of an ongoing Neos Weinberg/Vainberg Edition is even more of a cause for celebration.
FANFARE: Colin Clarke
With the first two volumes of Neos’s Weinberg Edition already issued three more appear this month. I am hoping that colleague reviewers will tackle the chamber volumes but I could not resist hearing this masterfully varied and typically poignant
Requiem from the mid-1960s.
Weinberg’s layout follows the anthologising pattern adopted by Britten and Shostakovich. It’s a secular Requiem with - as expected - no Latin texts:-
 Bread and Iron (Dmitri Kedrin) [2:59]
 And Then … (Federico García Lorca) [5:01]
 There will Come Soft Rains (Sara Teasdale) [15:15]
 Hiroshima Five-Line Stanzas (Munetoshi Fukagawa) [21:47]
 People Walked … (Federico García Lorca) [5:14]
 Sow the Seed (Mikhail Dudin) [10:29]
Bread and Iron movement is typified by belligerent drums and the wailing female choir. After this comes the first of two Lorca-based settings.
And Then … starts with the incessantly anxious chiming of harpsichord and celesta over which the men and women of the choir sing Lorca's words. The harpsichord is very prominently balanced and might remind you of the radio telescope music from Herrmann's
The Day the Earth Stood Still. The use of this most fragile and intimate of instruments carries over into
There will Come Soft Rains where again it is used to lace the atmosphere with urgency. The rapid striding tempo of the strings suggests William Schuman and a sort of brutalised and trembling distress. Defying its title this movement imparts neither peace or remission.
Hiroshima Five-Line Stanzas makes play with flute and vibraphone. The music does not muse and the middlingly quick and chaffing birdsong is counter-pointed by soft female singing. At 1.47 we here either a balalaika or a shamisen. The writing is full of ideas that intrigue and hold the mind's ear. Weinberg’s use of rhythmic devices of various sorts marks out his music. Penderecki’s
Hiroshima Threnody is referenced through a wailing ululation (at 4:14). The singing becomes tentative and makes its limping querulous way. At 9.03 there is a greater intensity of singing and drums fire a cannonade of anger. This fades into a fatigued and feeble emotionalism. Much of it is quiet with gong and shamisen sounds providing a fascinating lacework. From this emerges a more beatific atmosphere from the women and the strings - a sort of
Dona Nobis Pacem of The Cold War. In
People Walked Elena Kelessidi is the floridly volatile petrol-incendiary soprano. She interacts with the pecking and chanting of the harpsichord and balalaika. This is amounts to a defiant operatic aria but again takes a gradient towards gravely subdued expressive music. This segues without seam or gear shift into
Sow the Seed. Here the strings digress and discourse moderato while the words are sung alternately by women and men.
So ends a major discovery from Weinberg’s Soviet Union years - years which from him delivered suppression and reward.