Thursday, 23 February 2017

Mieczyslav Weinberg - Chamber Symphonies

Weinberg - Chamber Symphonies - Kremerata Baltica - ECM
Mieczyslav Weinberg Chamber Symphonies, Piano Quintet; Kremerata Baltica, Gidon Kremer; ECM
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 17 2017
Star rating: 5.0

Terrific performances of Weinberg's powerful and personal chamber symphonies

The music of Mieczyslav Weinberg is beginning to gather pace in its rate of discovery on disc. His opera The Idiot has received its first recording (see my review), whilst The Passenger is available on DVD in David Pountney's much-travelled production,  and violinist Linus Roth has issued recordings of the violin concertante and chamber works (see my review). Violinist Gidon Kremer played Weinberg's Violin Concerto with Kristjan Järvi and the Baltic Sea Philharmonic in their tour last year (see my interview with Kristjan).


Now Gidon Kremer and his Kremerata Baltica have recorded Weinberg's chamber symphonies for ECM. On this double Cd set, Kremer and the Kremerata Baltica are joined by percussionist Andrei Pushkarev, pianist Yulianna Avdeeva, clarinettist Mate Bekavac and conductor Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla to perform Chamber Symphony No. 1, Op.145, Chamber Symphony No. 2, Op.147, Chamber Symphony No. 3, Op. 151, Chamber Symphony No. 4, Op. 153 and Piano Quintet Op.18 (in a new orchestration by Andrei Pushkarev and Gidon Kremer).

The chamber symphonies are predominantly written for string orchestra, but the second has a solo violin and timpani, whilst the fourth has clarinet and triangle and is the only one on the disc performed with a conductor (Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla).

Weinberg's chamber symphonies have an intriguing history. The first two were issued in 1986 and 1987, and in 1990 Weinberg was awarded the State Prize for the works. In fact two chamber symphonies were based on Weinberg's second and third string quartets which he wrote in the 1940s. The third chamber symphony followed in 1990, based on his fifth string quartet (from 1945). Only the fourth chamber symphony (1992) is not based directly on a previous work (though the music is very self referential). Weinberg kept the links between the works quiet, and the fact only came to light after his death. So it is not surprising that Gidon Kremer decided to add to these a new orchestration of Weinberg's Piano Quintet from 1945.

The pieces thus book-end Weinberg's career in Russia. Chamber Symphony No.4 was the last work he completed. They are terrific pieces, and certainly deserve far wider currently. The first three are not straight transcriptions of the string quartets, Weinberg added movements, changed the order of existing ones and re-wrote some. But overall the pieces have a remarkable consistency and intensity, and a certain bleakness as repeatedly in the works the bleak, angry moments seemingly evaporate to leave bare, exposed textures. Many of the movements seem to finish like this, perhaps some indication of the isolation Weinberg felt as in the last decade of his life he withdrew from public life.

It is very tempting to see the works as something personal and diary-like in the way the Shostakovich's string quartets are. Particularly the way Weinberg felt the need to re-visit the quartets, changing, altering and adjusting. The writer of the CD booklet note, David Fanning, sees Weinberg's new movements as often more whimsical than the music of the string quartets, but that is only true so far. Heard in the new contexts, without reference to the original string quartets, the new music can be as quietly unsettling as the revisions to the earlier. Weinberg's revisions could be telling too, the finale of the second chamber symphony is the original second movement of the quartet, and Weinberg added a new final page in which Fanning talks about Weinberg substituting bleak defiance for romantic ecstasy.

Weinberg's writing is lyrical yet angular, as intense as the music of his friend Shostakovich but less sardonic. Shostakovich is a constant presence here, but Weinberg's personality is clear. The music is by turns vigorous, intense and bleak, and often restless. Movements are often multi-section, with drama evaporating into something more austere. There are lighter moments, popular dance rhythms get a mention as does klezmer, but nothing is every comforting. Yet, the music is somehow vibrant as well, Weinberg has crafted a group of terrifically powerful works.

These are strong performances, with the first three chamber symphonies benefiting from being recorded live. Inevitably there are hints of the live performance in smudgy details, but this is contrasted with the life-enhancing vividness of the playing. The studio recordings of the fourth chamber symphony and the piano quintet still capture something of the same feeling.

These terrific works deserve the widest currency and the disc is highly recommended.

Mieczyslav Weinberg (1919-1996) - Chamber Symphony No. 3, Op. 151 (1990)
Mieczyslav Weinberg - Chamber Symphony No. 2, Op.147 (1987)
Mieczyslav Weinberg - Chamber Symphony No. 1, Op.145 (1986)
Mieczyslav Weinberg - Piano Quintet Op.18 (in a new orchestration by Andrei Pushkarev and Gidon Kremer)
Mieczyslav Weinberg - Chamber Symphony No. 4, Op. 153 (1992)
Kremerata Baltica
Gidon Kremer (artistic director and principal violin)
Andrei Pushkarev (percussion)
Yulianna Avdeeva (piano)
Mate Bekavac (clarinet)
Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla (conductor)
Recorded live 13 June 2015, Musikverein, Vienna (chamber symphonies 1-3), 9-10 June 2015, Latvian Radio Studio, Riga
ECM NEW SERIES 2538/39 4814604 2CDs
Available from Amazon.

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