Notes and Editorial Reviews
Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes.
Symphony No. 6
Vladimir Lande, cond; Glinka Choral College Boys’ Ch; St. Petersburg St SO
NAXOS 8572779 (61:02)
Mieczysaw Weinberg’s sad and tortured life is described in the liner notes. The fate of his impressive and unjustly neglected music is explained by the fact that he was kept under wraps by his Soviet masters while others were given all the international glory. Naxos’s series of Weinberg releases, which so far includes three CDs
of his cello music, is augmented here with this release of his wonderful
Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes
and innovative Symphony No. 6.
begins softly, mysteriously, but builds into an impressive musical structure in which the music almost morphs from one section to another rather than sounding forcibly juxtaposed. These Moldavian themes have a certain Sephardic quality about them, a soulful minor-key tendency that influences one’s emotional reaction to the music even in the most energetic passages. Wisely, too, Weinberg does not over-write, so the piece doesn’t overstay its welcome.
The Sixth Symphony, composed in 1963, is a more mature and reflective work. Divided into five movements, it begins quietly, but this initial
does not stay quiet for long; rather, it breaks out into louder, yet no less somber, moods in which the brass and winds combine with the strings in a mode that tends toward the minor. Basses (and possibly cellos) sustain quiet chords while a solo flute plays with great anxiety above them; the solo role then passes on to horn and clarinet. A group of winds, including clarinets, plays a mysterious and restless melody above growling basses; another, quieter eruption with horns ensues; then it ebbs into a soft, unresolved dissonance for the finale.
The second movement includes the chorus of boys’ voices, singing a Lev Kvitko poem about a boy who makes a violin from scraps which he then plays to an audience of animals and birds. (Unfortunately, no texts are included, nor does Naxos direct you to a translation on its website.) The music is bitonal and polyrhythmic, in fact producing at times an almost purposefully uneven, galumphing gait. The music for the boys’ chorus is almost a chant, covering perhaps six tones that are played against the ever-changing harmonies of the orchestral background. A solo violin, emulating the boy’s homemade violin, plays plaintively, then the chorus returns while low wind, string, and brass chords play below them.
The third movement, marked
sounds almost hectic in its fast-forward motion, brass and percussion dominating the soundscape in a more mature and advanced sort of Khachaturian style. An almost klezmer-style clarinet solo interacts with glockenspiel and woodblocks, slurred trombones, and tubas. The fourth is described as a subtle reworking of one of Weinberg’s
from 1944, a rather ominous poem by Samuil Galkin in which the place where a home once stood is now a graveyard for murdered children, which will serve in the future as a memorial. The movement begins in a loud and ominous mood, with crashing timpani, but the chorus enters here in a softer, more conciliatory mood. Its song is a little more involved melodically here, written in C Minor and with the boys often singing in their lower range. Even the clarinet is pitched low, and the basses continue to pursue an ominous mood with occasional outbursts by the horns and low trumpets over percussion. Eventually, what sounds like very low, soft trombones underscore the boys’ song, occasionally colored by glockenspiel and oboe. Oddly, Weinberg ends the symphony with yet another slow movement, marked
It is based on a poem by Mikhail Lukonin in which “children of the present and future, from the Mississippi to the Mekong, are bid sleep in the confidence of a bright and productive tomorrow.” Appropriately, the music itself is like a lullaby, with wistful choral passages sparsely accompanied, first by the winds and then by lower strings. Certain elements heard earlier make tentative reappearances here, then the choir stops singing in order to give way to a solo violin playing a plaintive melody. The ending is a quiet, unresolved dissonance.
This is remarkable music, excellently played and sung by the various forces involved. As usual, Naxos’s over-reverberant sound blurs the clarity of certain instruments, but in the more atmospheric movement of the symphony this works to its advantage. There’s another recording of the
available, conducted by Gabriel Chmura with the Polish National Philharmonic on Chandos 10237, which received a good review in these pages from Barry Brenesal, and both the excellent Kiril Kondrashin and Vladimir Fedoseyev have recorded versions of the Sixth Symphony that I haven’t heard, but taken on its own merits, Vladimir Lande’s performance is very fine.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 6 in A minor, Op. 79 by Mieczyslaw Weinberg
St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra,
Glinka Choral College Boys' Choir
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1963; USSR
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