Mieczysław Weinberg’s time would certainly seem to be now. Advocacy plays a big part in that, of course, and recent champions such as the young German violinist Linus Roth – whose recordings of the Violin Concerto and sonatas (Challenge Classics, 9/13, 7/14) have really whetted appetites – can really bring about a sea change in interest. This latest release of late chamber symphonies (and be advised the numbering belies the presence of 21 earlier symphonies) further adds to the fascination, and such is the emotional and highly personal nature of Weinberg’s musical language that it’s nigh on impossible not to be drawn into his confidence.
The opening Lento of Symphony No 3 for string orchestra, which is in turn directly derived from his String Quartet No 5 (these pieces not only evolve from earlier works but thrive on self-quotation from elsewhere in his oeuvre), is entitled ‘Melody’ and that is precisely what you get – an unvarnished unison in search of harmony and development (very Bartókian), both of which it finds before emerging once more as the purest ‘confessional’. In the boisterous and explosive second movement it’s as if both Britten and Shostakovich have morphed into a dynamic and wilful alliance. Weinberg undoubtedly gets his immediacy and nose for atmosphere from Shostakovich (his self-confessed idol – and there was mutual admiration) but he is his own man and full of surprises. A boldness and directness prevails and he clearly relishes the gamesmanship of composition – like the freewheeling Andantino finale of this piece.
The Fourth opens with a great example of what makes Weinberg’s themes so individual: a ‘Chorale’ borrowed from his opera The Portrait, it’s a total ‘earworm’. But suddenly there is an obbligato clarinet among the strings and with it a multitude of Klezmer associations. That clarinet enjoys a wild ride in the second-movement Allegro molto, and again the rug is pulled from beneath us at the close when solo violin and cello are given quite unexpected monologues like afterthoughts on what has passed. An aching folksiness pervades the slow movement and a triangle offers two single shafts of light at the beginning and very end (a tiny touch of genius) of a final movement which seems to have been composed in the playing of it.
The Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra under Thord Svedlund make an excellent case for these intriguing pieces and Chandos brings them to us with vivid immediacy. Weinberg is coming in from the cold. (Gramophone)