There are certain composers whom I need to hear on a regular basis or I suffer withdrawal pangs. Not Mahler, who is so well lodged in memory that I can call any theme to mind without effort. Nor Beethoven, who I’m living with all year after breakfast. But definitely Shostakovich, and not far behind his close friend Weinberg. If I go a month without their company, I feel the loss.
Weinberg (1919-96), a Polish-Jewish refugee in Stalin’s Russia, was fortunate to survive the 1948 purge in which is father-in-law was murdered. He wrote the cello concerto in 1956 during the thaw of Khrushchev’s Stalin denunciation and had it premiered by Mstislav Rostropovich, Russia’s foremost cellist. It’s a folkloric work rippled with Jewish themes and a second movement that anticipates Fiddler on the Roof. In the thick of Soviet antisemitism, Weinberg shouted out his Jewishness.
The British cellist Raphael Wallfisch plays the concerto with big-toned empathy, engagingly interwoven with the Kristiansand Symphony, conductor Lukas Borowicz. The major discovery on this album is a concertino for cello and orchestra which Weinberg wrote in 1948 and had to withdraw for fear of Stalinist retribution. Unheard until 2017, it’s a quiet meditation on overtly Jewish tunes from a culture recently ravaged by Hitler and now persecuted by Stalin. Familiar as I am with the cello concerto, I’m inclined to think that the concertino is a stronger statement – more poignant, more gripping, more musical. Love Weinberg.
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