Weinberg collectors will need this disc because it contains the first recording of the composer’s Symphony No. 20, a work dating from 1988, eight years before his death. It was dedicated to Vladimir Fedoseyev and the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra … who apparently did not perform it. In fact, David Fanning’s booklet note, unless I misunderstand it, indicates that this firstRead more recording actually may be the work’s first performance. This is inconceivable to me. (That’s the second time I’ve said that in this isssue—see my review of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Four Dances from Love’s Labour’s Lost.) Granted, this is not a work that joyously leaps from the manuscript into a listener’s ear, but it strikes me as being about as good as his Sixth Symphony, which probably is the most familiar in his canon.
Many of Weinberg’s works reflect his close association with Shostakovich. That’s true of this symphony, which inhabits a sound world similar to that of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 2 and the late string quartets. It is in five movements. The outer movements are the longest—almost 13 minutes each—while the three in the middle are much shorter. The first movement begins quietly, and progresses along a desolate path. It builds to a bleak climax and sinks back down again. The first of the two scherzos (in Fanning’s description) is related, perhaps, to the second movement of Shostakovich’s Fifth, in that it is in heavy triple time, although it is less sardonic. After it comes to an abrupt end, there is a laconic con moto movement in which winds sing-song over a tip-toeing bass line. The second scherzo is a coarse attack led by brass and drums; one does not know whether to laugh or cry. This takes us to the last movement, which begins as an intense threnody for strings. The intensity remains high throughout, even in a quiet episode near the end for alto flute, accompanied by dry rustlings from the percussion section. Here, there seems to be a link with the third movement of Shostakovich’s Fifth. This is a serious, involving symphony that is certain to invite me back to know it even better.
The much earlier (1948) and more straightforward Cello Concerto adds Jewish flavors to the influence of Shostakovich. Mstislav Rostropovich was its first performer, although the premiere did not occur until nine years after Weinberg completed the score. The soloist begins singing an impassioned dirge almost immediately.This movement is followed, without pause, by a second song, accompanied by a habanera-like rhythm, although the association with klezmer music soon becomes clear. The third movement is assertive and cautiously cheerful; the folk element is particularly strong here. After a resounding orchestral thump, there is an extended and episodic cadenza for the soloist, and this leads into the fourth and final movement, which allows the cello to introduce yet another attractive melody. As with much of the concerto, there’s a feeling of well-being here that is very different from what is expressed in the symphony! The peaceful closing pages are magical. With its emphasis on tunes and folksy color, this relatively uncomplicated concerto should appeal to many listeners.
Cellist Claes Gunnarsson plays with gorgeous tone, and with plenty of personality. You might be able to locate Rostropovich’s recording of the concerto—but then again, you probably can’t—yet I don’t feel that Gunnarsson is selling the music short in any way. In both the concerto and the symphony, Thord Svedlund and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, who have recorded several Weinberg discs for Chandos now, are confident and sympathetic advocates. Perhaps the next recording of the symphony will reveal different tints and emotions, but at least for now, I am more than satisfied with the one at hand. In fact, this would be a good place to start, if you don’t know Weinberg’s music at all.
Symphony no 20, Op. 150by Mieczyslaw Weinberg Conductor:
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century Written: 1988; Russia Notes: Dedicated to Vladimir Fedoseyev and the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
Great music!August 23, 2014By Jerry G. (Edgewater, CO)See All My Reviews"I need to start looking at music that is not so mainstream and not often heard. This CD was great find, and pleasant surprise."Report Abuse
Weinberg Early and LateJanuary 3, 2013By J. MacElderry (Moorestown, NJ)See All My Reviews"Weinberg was a Polish refugee from the Nazis who ended up in Russia, becoming a close coleague and friend of Shostakovich. The cello concerto was written in 1948, before Shostakovich's first cello concerto. The Symphony No. 20 was written toward the end of his live in 1988. Both are first rate work, emotionally powerful and austere, never imitative of his mentor, demanding and rewarding close attention."Report Abuse