WEINBERG: Fantasia for Cello and Orchestra, op. 52. Concerto No. 1 for
Flute and String Orchestra, op. 75. Concerto No. 2 for Flute and Orchestra,
op. 148. Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra, op. 104.
Claes Gunnarsson (cello), Anders Jonhäll (flute), Urban Claesson
(clarinet), Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/Thord Svedlund
Chandos CHSA 5064 (F) (DDD) TT: 79:25.
NOW FROM AMAZON
Stateless Russian. Mieczyslaw Weinberg (also known as Moisey Vaynberg,
or Vainberg) was born and raised in Poland. At the very beginning of World
War II, Weinberg, a Jew, managed to leave Poland for the Soviet Union before
the Nazis rolled through. Shortly thereafter, he met Shostakovich, who
changed Weinberg's ideas about the music he wanted to write. Although Weinberg's
relation to Shostakovich was more collegial (he never studied with the
older man), Shostakovich definitely left his mark. Imagine, if you can,
over twenty more symphonies in the Shostakovich idiom and at Shostakovich's
level. I first heard Weinberg's music on the late, lamented Olympia label,
and it changed my view of twentieth-century Russian music in that it hinted
at many more masterful composers than Prokofiev or Shostakovich alone.
Weinberg's music represents another peak (I'd guess that Klebanov's music
does as well, based on what I've heard).
Weinberg sometimes gets a bum rap as knock-off Shostakovich, but for
me the two personalities are quite distinct. Weinberg writes warmer
come up with a hummable tune for reasons other than parody or party
line. Weinberg also possesses a more classical sense of form. Furthermore,
comes into the mix. Mainly Shostakovich and Weinberg share a mood and a
similar conception of the function of music. To some extent, the Soviet
government imposed this view upon every composer who wished to get a living
in the USSR. Music, even in "absolute" forms, has a program
and testifies to the times. It wasn't a coincidence that Solomon Volkov
his Shostakovich book Testimony. Some sort of spiritual program
underlies a score. It may not be the program decreed by the party,
but the music
must imply something beyond the notes. Weinberg's music has this quality
in spades, although it probably doesn't point to Shostakovich's or
Prokofiev's epic historicism. Weinberg seems to me to write about what
Frost called "inner
weather" -- his music sounds to me like spiritual autobiography.
This may be why party officials ignored him and rarely promoted his
the best musicians in the country -- including Shostakovich, Daniel
Shafran, Rostropovich, Kurt Sanderling, and Rudolf Barshai -- couldn't
After the horrors of World War II in the Soviet Union came yet another
Stalinist terror, largely directed against artists and especially against
Jewish artists. The leading Jewish actor in the country, Weinberg's
father-in-law, was murdered by the secret police on the streets in
broad daylight. The
Zhdanov decree, excoriating every major Soviet composer and quite a
few minor ones, was handed down in 1948. Weinberg, along with Myaskovsky,
was one of the few who refused to "repent" his Modernism.
In 1953, he spent three months in jail and probably would have disappeared,
not Shostakovich (at considerable personal risk) written a letter in
his defense. Perhaps Stalin's death also helped.
The Fantasia for cello comes from 1951-53 and bears the marks of Weinberg
trying to come to grips with government-decreed mass accessibility. It's
certainly not as grim or as weighty as Weinberg can get. However, it's
not trivial either. A beautiful lyricism pervades it -- elegant tunes,
one after the other. Despite its title, the score has a strongly-defined
shape, and because the ideas are so memorable, the listener can easily
follow its course. A declamatory idea introduces the work. This leads to
an allegretto, which winds down into a short recall of the intro. A waltz,
reminiscent of one the Grieg Symphonic Dances, follows. The cello then
gets a cadenza which sings the first two ideas in a more meditative way.
The allegretto returns and melts into the introductory idea, this time
winding the piece down.
The two flute concerti contrast in interesting ways. Over twenty-five years
separate them, the first from the early Sixties, the second from the late
Eighties. The first one winds its spring up really tightly. It's a tough,
efficient work. A lot happens during its course, and it rarely lets up.
Shostakovich provides the model in the shape of the themes. Much of the
fast music derives, like Shostakovich's, from Rossini's William Tell Overture.
The second movement, a passacaglia (shades of the Shostakovich first violin
concerto!), doesn't dissipate the intensity and indeed has more than enough
energy to jump right into the fast finale. If the first concerto concentrates
its force, the second strikes me as a richer, more humane work. Prokofiev
rather than Shostakovich seems the primary influence, although Weinberg
is a far more skillful architect. The concerto opens with a breathtakingly
lovely, serene paragraph, full of the atmosphere of the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene. Before you know it, you find yourself in the middle of a
fugato passage, far more astringent than the first idea, which leads to
darker thoughts. The movement becomes largely a conflict between these
two forces. It ends in emotional ambiguity. The second movement takes the
form of a melancholy Russian song, almost a lullaby -- a gradual build
to a strong climax and a sudden drop back to the opening dynamic and a
short recap of the opening paragraph. Up to this point, we've had a concerto
with a fairly classical viewpoint. The third movement shatters this with
something strange. At first, it seems like another Shostakovichian rondo,
again with that characteristic William Tell-Lone Ranger rhythm.
About halfway in, however, the movement begins to melt like a Dali
watch, as fragments
from Gluck's "Dance of the Blessed Spirits" and Bach's famous
badinerie flit in and out over a near pedal-point in the low strings.
The movement deflates like a balloon gradually losing air. It ends
on a soft
major chord, but nothing is truly resolved. You can write this sort
of thing only if you have absorbed musical rhetorical principles into
marrow. To me, a masterpiece of the flute repertoire.
If you think about it, eighty percent of the clarinet's solo character
was set by Mozart's clarinet concerto and clarinet quintet. Something different
(as opposed to something merely unnatural and bizarre for the instrument)
comes along rarely, and Weinberg's concerto qualifies as la difference,
particularly in its emotional tone. In general, it lies closer to the first
rather than to the second flute concerto -- clear neoclassical structures,
sparing of notes -- but it expands a bit. It doesn't insist on one overall
effect of a movement to the extent of the first concerto for flute. In
the first movement, the clarinet twitches, while the strings swarm and
sting like a nest of wasps. The grave second movement never settles, going
from darkness to light and back again. The outcome remains in doubt until
the last chord. The finale begins with a mordant theme, reminiscent of
certain Yiddish folk songs. This trades off with a pawky, somewhat satirical
march until the cadenza. Nevertheless, the music at times hints of serious
stuff in the background, only to have the clarinet yank things back to
the klezmer atmosphere. The concerto ends on an overly-affirmative major
fanfare and chord, which you don't believe for a minute.
I loved this disc. The soloists are wonderful, really getting into their
parts, with cellist Claes Gunnarsson standing out. The Gothenburg Symphony
has never particularly impressed me before, but under Svedlund it plays
like a different, much better band. The strings sound fuller, the ensemble
more integrated, the texture clearer. Add to this Chandos's stellar recorded
sound, and we have a winner.
S.G.S. (August 2008)