Mieczyslaw Weinberg: Chamber symphonies 2&4

Weinberg is an absolute master of intimated emotion

Lebrecht's Album of the Week


At the turn of the century there was hardly any Weinberg to be found on record, except on scratchy old Soviet LPs. Two decades on, there is so much Weinberg about it is hard to advise a new listener where to begin.

Weinberg is one of those composers — like Martinu and Milhaud, for instance — who kept on writing, with or without commission, carrying on even when publishers refused to put out any more. Towards the end of his life, with 26 symphonies lying virtually unperformed, he wrote chamber symphonies and string quartets in the hope that smaller ensembles might take an interest.

This piece is musical journalism: an essay on the end of an existential war

A refugee from German-occupied Poland, he became a friend and follower of Shostakovich without losing vital elements, Jewish and Mahlerian, that made him distinctly Weinberg. The 2nd and 4th chamber symphonies, urgently performed here by Rotislav Krimer’s East-West Chamber Orchestra of Minsk, judder with nervous energy and frustrated ambition. The second, dated 1987, smokes with anxieties of disintegration. The 4th, from 1992, is damn-near irresistible. Written for string orchestra, clarinet and triangle, it is a klezmer-like half-dance, half-lament, on the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The piano trio of 1945 is a repressed symphony writ small, magnified in this performance by the German violinist Linus Roth with the Argentine pianist Jose Gallardo and cellist Danjulo Ishizaka. At base, this piece is musical journalism: an essay on the end of an existential war. But Weinberg is subtler than mere journalists and his trio turns swiftly into a refugee saga, unsettled and unsettling.  Two aching Songs Without Words of 1947 inform us that the skies are darkening once again. Weinberg is an absolute master of intimated emotion.

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