Weinberg's 3rd Symphony, written in the aftermath of the Zhdanov denunciation of leading soviet composers (including Weinberg himself)is a very endearing, approachable work. As with Miaskovsky in his underrated 26th Symphony, Weinberg responds to the demands of the Socialist Realist state without compromising his integrity - the result is a work of considerable poignancy and eloquence. Of the symphonies I know I would place this together with the 5th (Weinberg's greatest symphony), the 6th and the 1st Symphony as my favourites. The 3rd Symphony has some folk song influence (like Miaskovsky's 23rd Symphony) and is lyrical and tuneful throughout. The CD runs for under 50 minutes which is poor value for a full-price CD these days, but there are very helpful booklet notes and a great photo of the composer (smiling for once)and his dog at a composer's retreat in 1968.
Well worth invesigating - I have played this CD often with much enjoyment.
on 14 September 2012
Mieczyslav Weinberg (1919-96) lived the greater part of his life in the shadow of prejudice, persecution and neglect. He was born a Polish Jew and pursued his early music studies in Warsaw. Most of his family were murdered by the Nazis during the occupation, but by a stroke of good fortune, he escaped when Shostakovich came across Weinberg's Fisrst Symphony and was sufficiently impressed with the younger composer's potential to arrange for him to continue his career in Moscow where he spent the rest of his life. Here, too, however, Weinberg encountered hardship, suffering, like many others, under Zhdanov's castigation of Soviet composers who were considered too "formalist", and also under Stalin's purges. At one point he was arrested on the ridiculous charge of attempting to help set up a Jewish state in the Crimea, and was only saved from execution by the courageous intervention of Shostakovich. The older composer, in fact, remained a good friend and mentor, and was so impressed by Weinberg's Sixth Symphony that he used material from it in his own teaching. Still, it was inevitable that Weinberg should live under his shadow, and that of Prokofiev, the other great luminary of the day.
Thanks to the efforts of Chandos and other recording companies, we are now beginning to see Weinberg emerging fron the shadows to receive a proper assessment of his worth. What we are finding is a composer of the highest quality who is well able to stand with the Soviet "greats" entirely on merit. For those who are coming to Weinberg for the first time, the Symphony No.3 is a great place to begin.
Much of the first movement is underpinned by an undulating ostinato rhythm that passes effortlessly from one orchestral group to another. The opening theme sounds airy and untroubled, a mood which is maintained throughout much of the movement. Later this theme is transformed by the brass into something more martial, but the melodic appeal is never far away. The coda is more solemn and mysterious. The short scherzo is skittish and dance-like with the character of those sets of dances at which so many British composers have excelled - but here, of course, in Russian dress. The appealing folk-like nature of much of the music (to some extent forced upon Weinberg by the hawkish Zhdanov regime) is seen to good effect here.
The slow movement opens with a heart-rending, yet dignified theme which gradually builds to a darker, more anguished middle section before returning to the calmer waters of the beginning. The finale is very much in the heroic tradition of the time (another Zhdanov requirement), such as one hears in Shostakovich's Fifth. Indeed, close your eyes, and this could so easily be Shostakovich (the two final chords in the slow movement are lifted straight from the ending of its counterpart in the aforementioned symphony). Still, given that the young Weinberg owed so much to the great master, it is hardly surprising that he should repay the debt through his music.
The "filler" on this recording is the Suite No.4 from the Golden Key, a ballet whose music lies rather in the Prokofiev/ Stravinsky tradition. The Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra under Thord Svedlund gives a splendid account of both works.
on 18 May 2011
There's no competition for this recording so you can't get an idea how another conductor, orchestra en production team would commit these works to disc but in the meantime: be happy Chandos continues to record the Weinberg symphonies, there're still a lot of volumes to go, and buy it. Orchestral playing is very good, recording warm and spacious, even has some admirable depth. Could have been a good `normal DDD-recording' too though. The ballet suite is very Prokofiev-like (Cinderella f.i.) and the symphony fails to chose between Shostakovitch's irony, folk song, form and meaning and the Zhadov doctrine. But in Weinberg's canon it's a link not to be missed. If you're lucky you own an Olympia CD of the complete ballet; it was issued light-years ago and is only obtainable at very high prices. The suite is great too but the movements have different titles than in the original ballet and musical numbers are combined (by Weinberg). In the olden LP times a running time of 50 minutes was great; a SACD can easily handle 100 so it's a bit of a Chandos joke that this SACD is over at 50 minutes. The picture inside the booklet of the orchestra with Gustavo Dudamel is a joke too. He isn't even visible because the page is folded right through his nearly invisible back! LOL. Informative booklet notes BTW.