Monday, December 22, 2014

Mieczysław Weinberg - Symphonies, Vol. 1 - National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Katowice - Gabriel Chmura, Director - Chandos 2003

Mieczysław Weinberg (Or Moishe Vainberg) was one of the most talented of 20th century composers, his reputation constantly increasing each year as his music has the power and brilliance of such masters as Shostakovich (Weinberg's close friend and biggest advocate) and Prokofiev. How fortunate we are that recordings have been popping up like springtime flowers in the past decade! The reason for the neglect of his music is largely political, for Weinberg, as a bourgeois Jew, suffered under both Nazism and Socialism. It is only since the barriers between the Soviet Union and the West have relaxed, that scholars worldwide are realizing the importance of Weinberg’s legacy.

Shostakovich described Weinberg as "one of the most outstanding composers of the present day". That someone who endured the horrors of Nazi genocide, World War II and the Gulag managed to compose at all is extraordinary, let alone produce an oeuvre of such size and quality (22 Symphonies, four Chamber Symphonies, two Sinfoniettas, seventeen String Quartets and numerous other pieces of chamber music as well as seven operas). Weinberg was the only one of his family to escape Nazi atrocities during the war. His father-in-law was assassinated by the Soviet authorities. Weinberg himself was detained and came close to death in 1953 when he was falsely accused of plotting to set up a Jewish republic in the Crimea.

Weinberg’s music shares stylistic traits with that of Shostakovich which is unsurprising, considering the closeness of their relationship. They met in 1943 when, as a refugee in the Soviet Union, Weinberg sent him a score of his First Symphony. The older composer was so impressed that he arranged for Weinberg to be officially invited to Moscow. Weinberg felt as if he had been ‘born anew’ through their encounter. It was not a question of his taking lessons, rather, he had found someone in whom he could confide. The two composers would play each of their newly completed works to one another-Weinberg was the primary source of the Jewish musical influences in Shostakovich’s music. Besides Shostakovich, other palpable influences on Weinberg’s music were Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Mahler. More of a romantic than his mentor, his music is notable for the lyrical beauty of its melodies and its extraordinarily fine thematic development.

The Symphony No. 5 Op. 76 emerged in 1962 influenced by the first performance, after a long suppression, of Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony. It is dedicated to Kondrashin, a lifelong Weinberg champion, who conducted the premiere of the Shostakovich work and recorded it for Melodiya shortly afterwards. Alistair Wightman comments, in his notes, on the similarities between the music of Shostakovich and Weinberg. The four movement Symphony is indeed bleak, has its moments of soured triumph threaded through with disillusion. There is a beleaguered comfort about the fine tenderly plangent adagio sostenuto which is I think more powerful than anything in Shostakovich 4. It bridges across to the tense adagios of the Roy Harris symphonies of the 1930s and 1940s. Tension bursts the bonds at 9.01 when the tender theme thrusts forward with all the torque of a supercharged spiritual; impressive by anyone's reckoning. The impishly playful flute and then other solo wind instruments seem to dance in macabre delicacy in the shortish allegro. This soon takes on a distinctly Shostakovichian edginess and dazzle before restively petering out into silence from which emerges a pastoral attacca final.

The First Sinfonietta dates from 1948, shortly after Shostakovich encouraged Weinberg to come to Moscow. Half the length of the symphony, it is more simply constructed and less emotionally complex. In this work, the Jewish elements are especially pronounced. The final movement, for example, is clearly based on klezmer music. Initially, the Sinfonietta's Jewish elements earned it praise from the commissars- this was music for the people-but it wouldn't be long before they were used against the composer, as anti-Semitism became more prominent in the Soviet Union. (Btw-is it my eyes or is the text smaller in this paragraph? Blogger is messing with me I do think..)




Johannes R. Becher said...

I'm on a trip and cannot keep up with so much new stuff, but I would like to point out that, to the best of my knowledge, he didn't "survive the Gulag", just a month in the Lubyanka (and that's far more an average man could endure without totally breaking down, I guess). Thanks for helping us ride the ongoing Weinberg revival.

Anonymous said...

He escuchado todas las sinfonias y todos los cuartetos de WEINBERG,Y creo humildemente que esta grabación,cd1 chandos,contiene la mejor Musik del autor polaco,amigo íntimo de Shostakovich,en muchas otras sinfonias se repite mucho,no es el genial Miaskovsky,pero su talento,aunque muy influenciado por el Great Dimitri,es bueno.Dr.Tapirman.

Johannes R. Becher said...

Finally could devote some time to this cd. The 5th has a great start, but to my liking it fails to sustain the excitement it elicits at the beginning, perhaps because one gets easily used to the very moderate tension it displays almost constantly. It's surprisingly friendly, I dare say quite a bit more than the mass-appealing (so says Khrennikov, according to the liner notes) sinfonietta.

coppinsuk said...


May I thank you for all your hard work and dedication in posting all the beautiful music during 2014.

It is very much appreciated.

All the very best for the Festive Season and in 2015.


Douglas (UK)

Tzadik said...

Hello Johannes, hope you are taking a trip for the holidays only and not work! I learned many years ago about Weinberg's time in a/the gulag. If I am incorrect I apologize for the misinformation. I will have to look into it, the source was a reliable one, although this was over 15 years ago, perhaps this was an exception to otherwise said reliability..

Tzadik said...

Felices Fiestas Tapirman, feliz de que disfrutan el volumen uno. ¿Ya lo tienes? Me gusta toda la música de Weinberg, pero entiendo lo que quieres decir .. TZ

Tzadik said...

Johannes I have to say for me the tension's just fine, however I suppose I am biased ;) I like the Sinfonietta just as much actually. Khrennikov was a shyster, his praise wasn't worth anything..he was a Stalinist puppet and part of the "music against the people" anti-formalism campaign. Indeed, Khrennikov became Secretary of the Union of Soviet Composers and trashed people like Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Khrennikov incidentally lied about "protecting Weinberg" from what would have been a long prison sentence, when it was only Stalin's death that kept Weinberg from imprisonment and execution. Ha..I am furious with Khrennikov out of nowhere...I need to breathe

Tzadik said...

Hello Douglas and thank you for your kind comments and well-wishing, I do appreciate that. -All the best to you too, may 2015 overflow with only more beautiful music :) Cheers, TZ

Johannes R. Becher said...

Hi Tzadik,

I surely have no more in-depth information that you do regarding Weinberg's "gulag-time". I know he was arrested and confined in the Lubyanka for a month and that some members of his family effectively ended up in some lager. I think such a remarkable fact as a composer like him been sent to some siberian camp would be mentioned somewhere in the liner notes, biographic reports and the like. Anyway, if you can find the reference I would be much grateful.

The 5th's tension is also alright for me. And yes, I know Khrennikov. A controversial character. It's strange that he praised the sinfonietta (certainly a poison-loaded remark in those times), I don't find it particularly "mass-appealing".

Regards !

Who_knows said...

I can´t saysomething to Weinberg other that he make great music. I hope he gets as popular as Shostakovich, who was first sawn as a communist in the west and is know seen as a victim of stalin.

Depending the smaller text in the last paragraph: It´s not your eyes. It's really there.

Tzadik said...

Johannes I will look for the info, I will be surprised if it is false, but at least it would mean there's one less chapter of suffering for Weinberg during the otherwise bleak and dark times he went through, and got though, rather incredibly.. I agree, the Sinfonietta is not exactly 'mass appealing', I think Khrennikov was in some sort of trance. I only know I haven't met a Weinberg work that I didn't at least like (then again there's still quite a bit of M.W. to explore). -TZ

Tzadik said...

Who_knows I think Weinberg deserves that level of praise. His 'time to shine' seems to be here. -Thanks for you observation on the font size, blogger keeps screwing with some of my paragraphs!