Thursday 31 January 2013

A deeply moving work by Mieczyslaw Weinberg in a new release from Naxos

After much neglect Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s (1919 - 1996) time now seems to have come.  In June 2012 I spoke of Weinberg - The forgotten composer but in November 2012 I was able to review Murray McLachlan’s fine performances of the complete Weinberg piano sonatas on Divine Art Recordings

Given that the Olympia recordings of some of Weinberg’s symphonies are no longer available (unless second-hand copies can be found), it was good when Chandos  started their series of recordings of these works. These have been slow to arrive so it is even more welcome that Naxos have also started issuing recordings of the symphonies and, so far, without duplication. Naxos has already recorded Weinberg’s Violin Concerto and the complete works for solo cello.

The symphonies already issued are Symphony No.6 coupled with the Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes and Symphony No.19 coupled with The Banners of Peace both with the St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra conducting by their Principal Guest Conductor, Vladimir Lande.
                                     8.572779                                           8.572752

Now from Naxos comes Weinberg’s large choral Symphony No 8 ‘Polish Flowers’ with that fine conductor who has done many great recordings for Naxos, Antoni Wit, conducting the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir. 
It is appropriate that a Polish conductor, orchestra and choir should perform this work given its strong connection to Weinberg’s Polish roots in this wonderful setting of the poems of the Polish poet, Julian Tuwim (1894-1953)

Weinberg’s eighth symphony is a remarkable work, indeed, one of his finest. The first movement, Gust of Spring, opens with percussion and low strings giving a pensive even brooding atmosphere before the female voices of the choir enter. The brooding sounds remain all through this movement until the strings bring in a haunting melody and a solo clarinet leads to Children of Baluty, full of dancing rhythms with the female voices singing above pizzicato strings and woodwind. Eventually tenor, Rafal Bartmiński, joins with a slower and more pensive tune.  The female voices and tenor eventually come together combining both themes. Whilst there is some of the spikiness of Shostakovich it is wholly original in overall concept.

In front of the Old Hut is introduced by a solo trumpet followed by woodwind before the tenor enters in a somewhat yearning song, full of nostalgia with mournful woodwind accompaniment. There are some lovely woodwind phrases here. Rafal Bartmiński has a fine voice that suits this music well. The music soon becomes more passionate with woodwind and brass interjections. Unaccompanied voices bring this movement to a quiet conclusion. Strange string sounds lead into There was an Orchard before the men’s voices of the choir, followed by soprano, Magdalena Dobrowolska, join bringing a pure, innocent, almost childlike sound to her singing. Alto, Ewa Marciniec, then joins bringing a lovely distinctive sound, before both sing together with a slightly astringent string background, a very distinctive Weinberg sound. Slowly the chorus enters to end the movement.

A plaintive flute opens Elderberry before the tenor sings of the hope of springtime. The chorus enters, chanting, before rising to a passionate climax with orchestra, leading to one of the works most inspired and beautiful moments. The tenor sings out over percussion then brass intone the conclusion. Percussion and brass open Lesson, a fast movement, before the full chorus enters. It has a frantic feel combined with dancing rhythms with much percussion and exhilarating singing from the marvellous Warsaw Philharmonic Choir. The choir hushes with tuba sounds and percussion in a mysterious section with woodwind trills before the return of the louder theme for an extended orchestral passage full of Weinberg’s distinctive orchestral touches. The chorus returns with cries from parts of the choir before the orchestra takes over, before dying away with brass and percussion to somewhat chilled, quiet end.

Warsaw Dogs opens with percussion and piano chords. The chorus enters against this strange sound in impassioned music that builds in violence and anger. The opening chords are re-iterated forcefully before a sudden stillness brings an impassioned tenor. Men’s voices chant quietly with brass and side-drum before a final orchestral outburst end this movement. Mother opens with shimmering strings before a wordless choir quietly enters. The tenor joins in a moving section, a lament over a mother’s death, another wonderful part of this symphony. A solo horn makes brief occasional appearances adding to the mournful quality. Weinberg bares his heart in moving music after which woodwind, timpani and celeste bring this movement to a still end.

Justice opens forcefully with full unaccompanied chorus, just reinforced occasionally with strings and brass. There are quiet moments from the choir that give contrast. The choir’s female voices then enter against low strings and woodwind before the rest of the choir slowly joins in a quieter more restrained section. A brief choral and orchestral outburst leads to The Vistula flows where the tenor sings with female voices quietly in the background before being taken over by a quiet orchestra accompaniment. Hope seems to be tentative as the tenor sings quietly and reflectively. The chorus enters against the strings, gently raising the positive feel of the music, though harmonically the choir is still reflective. The tenor again enters against an orchestral accompaniment in a more impassioned voice.

There is a quietly mysterious orchestral section, with solo flute, before the choir quietly joins, slowly but surely, developing in force and passion towards the great climax of this work in a slowly rising, colossal passage for choir and orchestra with striking percussion sounds. This subsides as the choir and orchestra fall back seemingly losing their impetus. The opening theme returns before woodwind lead the orchestra to a finely poised but generally optimistic coda.

This is a wonderful, deeply moving work that seems to grow in stature with each hearing. Antoni Wit conducts a terrific performance, full of passion and understanding. The Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra is on fine form as is the Warsaw Philharmonic Choir. Soloists Rafal Bartmiński (tenor), Magdalena Dobrowolska (soprano) and Ewa Marciniec (alto) are all excellent.

The recording from Warsaw Philharmonic Hall is excellent.  There are informative notes from Richard Whitehouse but, unfortunately no texts included. However, the Polish texts will be available on the Naxos website and I have found individual translations of the poems on line.  I do hope that Antoni Wit will be recording more of Weinberg's music for Naxos.

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