SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

WEINBERG: Symphonies No. 1 in G minor (1942); Symphony 7 for harpsichord and strings (1964) – Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra /Thord Svedlund – Chandos

The quality of the writing is fully mature, the scurrying counterpoint imaginative, the exposed orchestration making great demands on the principals - the Gothenburgers shining in all departments.

Published on May 1, 2010

WEINBERG: Symphonies No. 1 in G minor (1942); Symphony 7 for harpsichord and strings (1964) – Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra /Thord Svedlund – Chandos

WEINBERG: Symphonies No. 1 in G minor (1942); Symphony 7 for harpsichord and strings (1964) – Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra /Thord Svedlund – Chandos multichannel SACD CHSA5078, 69:23 [Distrib. by Naxos]  *****:

Mieczyslaw Weinberg, also known as Moisei Vainberg, was born in Warsaw in 1919, fled East to the Soviet Union in 1939 to avoid Nazi persecution, a fate not avoided by his sister and parents who in 1941 died in the concentration camp in Trawniki.

The young Weinberg dedicated his First Symphony to the Red Army. He’d written the work in Tashkent having been forced to leave his first Russian home, in Minsk, due to the German invasion. Weinberg’s works do display influence from Shostakovich but these are not mere copies. The First’s structure is much like some of Shostakovich’s earlier symphonies with gritty scherzo and often spare, transparent orchestration in evidence. Some stratospheric writing for violin, giving a chilly feeling to the listener, is also a calling-card, and provoke a feeling of struggle. Though a wartime work, and in G minor, it is not all doom and gloom by any means, and especially when Weinberg’s own personal circumstances are factored in, the work is, in the end, optimistic.

The quality of the writing is fully mature, the scurrying counterpoint imaginative, the exposed orchestration making great demands on the principals – the Gothenburgers shining in all departments. The Weinberg idiom is not new to them – the orchestra made a recording of three concertos for Chandos (CHSA5064) – the soloists being principal players in the orchestra. The recording quality, especially in multichannel, is a credit to Chandos’s engineers, a lovely airy sound captured in the orchestra’s lovely home.

Weinberg sent the score of his First Symphony to Shostakovich who was very impressed by it, and arranged for Weinberg newly married to move to Moscow in 1943 where he remained until his death in 1996. He and Shostakovich became very good friends.

In the meantime, he had to endure the post-war psychoses of Stalin; as I wrote earlier, “he was the victim of the 1948 anti-formalism campaign and was partially blacklisted making money in the lean years following writing for theatre and circus, and he was arrested in 1953 during the “Doctors’ Plot”, the alleged conspiracy of Jewish doctors plotting to poison the Soviet hierarchy. Weinberg wasn’t a doctor, but his father-in-law was, and Shostakovich, the faithful friend, was brave enough to write to Beria for help in the matter; it was Stalin’s death a little later which possibly saved Weinberg’s life.”

Writing a symphony for strings and harpsichord in Moscow in 1964 was a stroke of originality. Dedicated to Rudolf Barshai, the great Russian violist and conductor, and premièred by Barshai’s Moscow Chamber Orchestra, it is in five continuous movements. The harpsichord’s function is as that in a concerto grosso, and the recording has the excellent instrument played by Erik Risberg balanced in the orchestra and not spotlit. As David Fanning points out in his excellent essay the work is one of several Russian symphonies which were concerti grossi in flavor. The andante is particularly effect, strings only, with mutes. There is a distinct feeling of unease pervading a lot of the work, and some bleak moments, too. The last movement’s ending made the hairs at the back of head stand up, a quiet coda with a firm, determined C major chord which said to me: “After all this, I am still unbowed.”
Very moving.

– Peter Joelson




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