Thursday 14 August 2014

Dmitry Vasilyev and the Siberian Symphony Orchestra bring an important addition to the Weinberg discography with a recording of Symphony No.21 on a new release from Toccata Classics

The revival of interest in the music by Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996) continues apace with another new release from Toccata Classics of his Symphony No.21 coupled with his earlier Polish Tunes.


TOCC 0193

Weinberg wrote 26 symphonies in all, four chamber symphonies and twenty two designated symphonies, though the last, No.22 is left in a draft short score. This new release features the Siberian Symphony Orchestra!sso/c1guv  under their Principal Conductor, Dmitry Vasilyev . This is an important release given that this last completed, full scale symphony is a major score lasting some fifty three minutes complete with wordless soprano in the last section.

However, first on this new disc is a work from 1950, his Polish Tunes, Op.47, No.2. Premiered by the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, it was conducted by Karl Eliasberg, the conductor who famously performed Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony in Leningrad during the siege in 1942. However, this is a much lighter work, the Adagio of which opens with a mournful tune for wind instruments before the Allegro arrives, a jollier theme that slows for a clarinet solo before leading into the Andantino with a plodding melody for oboe over pizzicato strings. Soon a broader tune arrives which leads to a halting melody for woodwind and strings before a lovely little coda.

The Allegro has a sprightly theme for woodwind that is taken forward by the strings with brass and woodwind interventions as the music gallops ahead. A kind of fanfare opens the Allegro moderato before a strong dance theme with emphatic rhythm. There is a lovely little trio section before the music dances, happily forward and, though a quieter section follows, there is a riotous coda.

This is an attractive work, light in feel but full of good humour.

Weinberg’s Symphony No.21, Op.152, Kaddish, composed between 1989 and 1991, is another matter, a deeply serious paean to the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto and dedicated to them.

In a single movement, though in six clearly defined sections, it is subtitled Kaddish – the Jewish prayer for the dead. A broad, melancholy string theme, underpinned by timpani, opens the extended Largo.  Soon a solo viola theme is heard against a hushed orchestra, surely a lament for the dead. The orchestra then rises up passionately before percussive piano chords are sounded, followed by a brass chorale. Later the music falls to a solo clarinet playing a sad theme over a hushed orchestra that leads to a passage for woodwind. Sonorous strings appear before a drum announces a solo piano soon joined by a solo viola. Brass intone a theme before the strings lead quietly on. Suddenly the ear is caught by the piano again but this time it is playing a quote from Chopin’s First Ballade, just briefly before the hushed strings lead to the coda where the music seems to effect some resolution as the celeste plays a rising motif taken up by a clarinet.

The rising motif is reflected in the more dynamic opening of the Allegro molto where woodwind scurry around before the rising theme is varied around the orchestra, unsettling and full of anxiety and agitation. Soon the brass bring a weight and grandeur and, occasionally, the sound world of Shostakovich appears in this agitated music. There are agitated sweeps of strings punctuated by woodwind, becoming more dramatic and louder in the coda.

A drum sounds dramatically to open the Largo with the agitated nature of the music retained as the brass sounds an anxious theme. But suddenly the music drops to a hush with a quiet flute melody soon taken by the brass. Then a double bass brings a little tune before various instruments add odd little touches. The solo double bass returns but brass come in over the top. Soon the sound of a Jewish klezmer ensemble is heard in the winds and lower strings before we are led to the Presto section, an orchestral gallop that opens manically, with the music flying forward. The music slows for a more contemplative section with a short violin solo and woodwind passage before melancholy strings lead to the Andantino.

A xylophone plays a little tune over a static orchestra soon taken by pizzicato violin. A bass clarinet joins before the pizzicato violin and xylophone respond to each other. A broader, reflective orchestra section follows, punctuated by brass then woodwind before rising with agitated strings soaring upwards, soon joined by the weight of the whole orchestra in a tremendous outpouring of emotion.

A final outburst leads into the Lento with piano chords hammered out, cymbal clashes with other percussion and a cry of passion from the strings. There is a repeated outburst of chiming percussion, punctuated by string cries before falling to a hushed woodwind passage with clarinet solo. The lower strings join followed by soprano Veronika Bartenyeva in her wordless part, intoning a melancholy melody against hushed static strings, again joined by a clarinet. This is a haunting moment that sends a chill through one. The solo piano returns unexpectedly with another brief Chopin Ballade quotation before a little string ensemble appears in a quiet, falling motif. A harmonium quietly playing a rising and falling motif is heard, ghostly in its strange theme. A melancholy clarinet enters before the soprano returns more passionately and the music leaps up dramatically. Timpani sound and there are agitated strings before the music falls to just a flute and hushed strings as the coda arrives with no cheer.

This is an important addition to the Weinberg discography. Dmitry Vasilyev and the Siberian Symphony Orchestra do a tremendous job. The recording has a little string edge but overall is good and detailed and there are excellent notes from David Fanning.

If you have the slightest interest in Russian music of the 20th century then this disc is a must.

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