Mieczyslaw WEINBERG (1919-1996)
Weinberg Edition - Volume 1
Symphony No. 6 for boys’ choir and orchestra op. 79 (1962-63) [44:11]
Sinfonietta No. 1 in D minor op. 41 (1948) [22:47]
Wiener Sangerknaben/Gerald Wirth
Wiener Symphoniker/Vladimir Fedoseyev
Symphonieorchester Vorarlberg/Gerard Korsten (Sinfonietta)
rec. live, Bregenz, 1, 15 August 2010
SACD Hybrid Multi-channel
NEOS SACD NEOS11125 [66:59]

Mieczyslaw WEINBERG (1919-1996)

Weinberg Edition - Volume 2
Symphony No. 17, Memory Op. 137 (1982-84) [53:01]
Wiener Symphoniker/Vladimir Fedoseyev
rec. live, Bregenz, 25 July 2010
SACD Hybrid Multi-channel
NEOS SACD NEOS11126 [53:01]

These recordings are the first and second in what I hope will be a series emanating from the Bregenz Festival. The Festival also saw the stage premiere of Weinberg’s opera The Passenger now enjoying an eight night run at the ENO. The ambitious Requiem was also performed. The Passenger (1967-8) is based on a disturbing story in which a former Auschwitz guard by chance meets one of ‘her prisoners’ on an ocean liner. The production is by David Pountney who supplies a brief preface to the notes for each of these NEOS CDs. There are to be other performances of The Passenger in Wielki Teatr, Warsaw and Teatro Real, Madrid. It’s time has clearly come and surely a recording cannot be too far behind. There are six other operas as well as 22 symphonies and 17 string quartets.

Weinberg, also shown in previous times in Russianised form as ‘Moishe Vainberg’ first emerged for many LP listeners in the 1970s on EMI-Melodiya ASD 2755. Kogan was the soloist in the Violin Concerto and Kondrashin conducted the Fourth Symphony. That coupling was reissued on CD on Olympia OCD622. Olympia, during the 1980s and until about 2003, issued a ‘Vainberg Edition’ the symphonic volumes of which numbered OCD471 (6, 10), OCD472 (7, 12), OCD589 (18, 19) and OCD590 (17). These are now difficult to find and/or prohibitively expensive on ebay or Amazon. However they have been joined by a new generation of CDs from Chandos who have produced recordings of symphonies 1 and 7, 3, 4, 5, 14 and 16 as well as some of the concertos. Add to this harvest home the Northern Flowers CD of Symphony No. 1 and Alto’s revivification of two Olympias of the chamber symphonies and Symphony No. 2. The Manchester-based Danel Quartet who also performed at the Bregenz Festival have a cycle of the quartets with CPO: The five CPO volumes of the Weinberg: String Quartets are: Volume 1: 7773132; Volume 2: 7773922; Volume 3: 7773932; Volume 4: 7773942; Volume 5: 7775662. The Piano Quintet is on a Nimbus disc.

The Sixth Symphony - unlike the 17th - is in five movements and is laid out for boys choir and orchestra. The choir sings three poems two of them being by dissenting poets. The last - used in the finale - deploys a poem that would have sung directly and compliantly to the Soviet regime. The words are not reproduced in the booklet which is a shame - a small shame. War and the holocaust arch over this music and over the eight and ninth symphonies. It should be borne in mind that the composer’s parents and sister died in the Warsaw ghetto and that the symphony was contemporaneous with the Cuban missile crisis. The music is grave and serious however within this consistent intensity Weinberg’s ideas range freely and in splendid and ear-intriguing variety. There’s a suggestion of klezmer nostalgia at 9.00 in the first movement which ends with sustained strings and quiet intoning of the solo clarinet. The second movement sometimes recalls Orff and the Britten Spring Symphony. The singing is fine, soft yet incisive. Weinberg paints with a nuanced palette balancing furious and serene. There are however some garish moments where orchestra and choir have pari passu roles. The third orchestra-only movement is explosive with high-shrieking woodwind. This is raucously active writing suggestive of Shostakovich. It has a somewhat fugal character at times. It ends on a bell’s resonance from which emerges the fourth movement. This is a Largo – bleak and high tensile – setting words by Shmuel Halkin on the subject of the Nazis’ massacre of the Kiev Jews – a subject also addressed in Shostakovich 13 Babi Yar, written in 1962. Tenderness and sunlit misty fields float into vision. If you enjoy Britten Spring Symphony or the Mathias This Worldes Joie then this should appeal strongly. That said, its corrosive acid bites to the bone and deeper than either comparator work. This acerbic face is hardly softened by the optimism of many sections of V even if we are confronted with gentle invocatory hymns to a unity that arches over Volga, Mekong and Mississippi. Sun and mists mingle in seraphically murmured peace as the work closes.

The four movement Sinfonietta No. 1 is in the outer movements brilliant, dynamic, ethnic and jolly. This is folk-inspired material with Prokofiev’s sharp accent and a Khachaturian whirl. It’s not a work of the profundity of the symphonies. Its arena is concerned with the enjoyably recreational. The second movement is more poetic and partakes of the same tributaries as the start of the finale of the Sixth Symphony. The jolly little Allegretto burbles smilingly in the first Klezmer echo – a touch of the dances of Kodaly. The Vorarlberg orchestra play it with élan and with a temperate yield.

Weinberg’s symphonies 17-19 share a collective schema: The Threshold of War. All three were recorded in Soviet readings by Fedoseyev who has a long track-record of championing Weinberg and is also the dedicatee of the Symphony No. 17. It starts with concentrated, unglamorous, glowing string-writing. This is melancholy rather than morose, serious but laced with an apt drama and a generalised Semitic sway (7:03 in tr. 1). The second movement makes tense play of low-key fast-racing piano lines over which the woodwind quietly muses. There’s a sense of urgency at one tier and of sorrowing reflection at the other. This gives way to gaunt exchanges between searingly imperious violins and brass figures. At 9.40 we hear Janáček-like string shrieks and the suggestion of the Dies Irae. There’s even a hammered-out Mars-like triple forte. At 4.03 in III there’s a touching balletic nostalgia but always with a diluted acerbic accent. The finale is a 17 minute Andante only a minute shorter than the second movement Allegro Molto. This drifts undemonstratively and with pensive inclination. After about half the finale’s length a more bleakly victorious tone is struck with fanfares bruited and sirened about. Then comes an almost prayerful intimate musing (12:00) that evolves a tenderness (14:30) touched in by the celesta. The symphony ends with a protesting and brilliantly scythed gesture.

Live performances are preserved on these two discs so some coughs and atmosphere must be anticipated including the creak of chairs but without applause.

NEOS use their usual card-fold format to present these two CDs.

These recordings have been financed by the Institute that bears the name of the Polish poet and publisher Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855).

Neos will, I am sure, be giving us other provocative discoveries from Bregenz. The one most keenly anticipated is the Requiem which was played there on 1 August 2010.

Two deeply serious but only occasionally grim symphonies and an entertaining Sinfonietta.

Rob Barnett

Two deeply serious but only occasionally grim symphonies and an entertaining Sinfonietta.