Like Prokofiev (Piano sonatas 6-8) and Shostakovich (Symphonies 7-9) Mieczysław Weinberg wrote a war trilogy. This is entitled On the Threshold of
War: his 17th
symphonies. Unlike the Prokofiev and Shostakovich cycles, Weinberg’s was written long after 'The Great Patriotic War' and is thus both commemorative and more general in its application. The middle of the three symphonies, No. 18, consists of a large orchestral movement followed by three choral ones with texts inspired by World War II.
The first movement of the 18th
symphony (Adagio. Allegro
[15:31]) begins with a mournful adagio of chamber music consistency followed by ceremonial music on brass. These two thematic elements form the material for the entire movement as well as recurring later in the symphony. The first represents the mournful aspects of the war and the second the great victory. The development of these two elements in the following allegro is masterly, beginning with frenetic music on strings leading to a blast for full orchestra and organ. This subsides into a passage for shrieking woodwinds before the first theme returns on strings.
The second movement [12:36] is a setting of Sergei Orlov’s poem He Was Buried in the Earth
. This begins a capella
and with great simplicity before being developed by woodwinds and strings. Chorus and orchestra combine in music that steadily becomes more desperate. The tempo lengthens and collapse seems imminent before the music just drifts away on strings. The text of the third movement (My dear little berry, you do not know the pain that is in my heart’ [12:03]) is a wartime song. Woodwinds again accompany the chorus in increasingly dissonant music with occasional use of solo voices. Chorus and orchestra alternate before a magical passage for chorus, strings and mandolin. It seems as if the music will again dissipate at the end but the strings and mandolin, accompanied by organ pedal, continue to develop the basic material before almost stopping dead. The symphony’s title derives from the text of the last movement [4:11], a poem by Alexander Tvardovsky. Here voices take up the musical thread of the third movement in what must be the most despairing music of the whole symphony with brass adding a note of solemnity before the quiet conclusion.
Weinberg’s Trumpet Concerto was written for the great Timothy Dokshitser. The first movement, Etudes
, starts with scale-like passages for the soloist accompanied by strings and percussion. This is developed in sardonic fashion until Weinberg introduces a more urgent and serious triplet figure before the opening scales return. Episodes
, the second movement, is a tremendous workout for the soloist with an extended cadenza for muted trumpet sometimes accompanied by solo flute. The mood varies between serious and almost spectral with asides from various first-desk players. The last movement, Fanfares
, is based on works of that type by various well-known composers. It includes a second cadenza accompanied by percussion and interplay with various solo instruments before the return of the work’s opening scales.
Andrew Balio, the Principal Trumpet of the Baltimore Symphony, handles the varied aspects of the Trumpet Concerto with great aplomb, especially in the second movement cadenza. Several recordings of the Concerto exist, including an excellent one on Chandos
with Bibi Black (see the discography and review index in the new Weinberg Musicweb Composer Resource page
). In the Symphony the St. Petersburg Chamber Choir sings the a capella
sections with great beauty and simplicity, combining equally well with the orchestra. The members of the St. Petersburg State Symphony have shown themselves to be experts in Weinberg’s music (see the Weinberg Musicweb Composer Resource page). This disc is no exception and the woodwinds are truly impressive. All told this disc equals Vladimir Lande’s other Weinberg recordings (Symphonies: 6
) and it is to be hoped that he next records Symphony No. 17, the first part of the trilogy.
As this is the only currently available recording of No. 18 it is a must-purchase addition to all collections of twentieth century music.
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