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Sinfonie Nr. 12 - In memoriam D. Schostakowitsch
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Weinberg's symphonies are recognized today as a substantial continuation of the Russian tradition. Weinberg's Symphony No. 12 was written in the style and spirit of Shostakovich and is a response to the death in August 1975 of his great friend and supporter of 32 years. With its subtle stylistic allusions to Shostakovich, this is the longest and most wide-ranging of Weinberg's purely orchestral symphonies. This recording has been prepared utilising the composer's hand written materials and markings. One of only two surviving ballet scores, The Golden Key is a compelling satire, extending a lineage which includes Prokofiev and Stravinsky.
Our ongoing cycle of Mieczysaw Weinberg's symphonies has been universally acclaimed. A "performance of searing intensity" (BBC Music Magazine) of the Symphony No. 8 (8.572873) was awarded Diapason d'Or and recommended by ClassicsToday.com as "a very fine release of music by an elusive but tremendously sincere and worthy composer".
The St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra conducted by its American principal guest conductor Vladimir Lande has also recorded Weinberg's Symphony No. 19 (8.572752) and Symphony No. 6 (8.572779), with Lande's conducting considered as having "an understanding and fervour that is greatly superior" (Gramophone) to any of the recorded alternatives.
'Vladimir Lande and the St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra negotiate the considerable technical demands of this complex score with impressive assurance.. Supported by a wonderfully focused recording they deliver a performance that is incisive and powerfully committed.' --BBC Music Magazine, February 2014
'The 'monogram' of the older composer [Shostakovich] - DSCH (D, E flat, C B) - threads through this big work, which bear's Shostakovich's hallmarks: questing melodies, quarrelsome surges and a huge range of orchestral colour from the full spectrum to the fragile celesta and woodwind. A revelation.' **** --The Independent on Sunday, Claudia Pritchard 26/01/2014
'Vladimir Lande has been [The St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra's] principal guest conductor since 2008. It plays everything here with commitment and a keen ear for detail, delivering a powerful and convincing performance of the symphony and a thoroughly enjoyable one of the ballet suite.' --MusicWeb International
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The symphony starts with a powerful angular unison figure that recalls similar passages in Shostakovich's music. To my ears, many sections reminded me of Shostakovich's 5th Symphony, alternating with his Op. 110 Chamber Symphony. But none of this is pastiche. The orchestration may echo Shostakovich, but the melodic and harmonic content is Weinberg's. An effective tribute to a fellow composer.
By contrast, the second work on the disc, the "Golden Key" is a lighthearted upbeat ballet suite. Sometimes the melodies go a little off the rails (like early Prokofiev), but that just adds a little spice. The music is very Russian in character, and Weinberg's vibrant orchestration at times sounds dazzling.
Vladimir Lande and the St. Petersberg State symphony Orchestra turn in solid performances of these works. Lande doing a particularly effective job of bringing out the authentic emotion of the symphony.
This is the third Naxos release of Weinberg symphonies with this ensemble. I hope there are more to follow.
This particular tombstone is not for a nameless victim, but for the Soviet's celebrity composer, Weinberg's great friend, benefactor and protector, Dimitri Shostokovich, whose death in 1975 occasioned its writing. Is it a musical portrait, a look inside the emotional life of this haunted, famously guarded soul? We must draw our own inferences, but there is no doubting the fierce urgency of this music and the claustrophobic grip with which it holds our attention. From its first bar, this music grabs our lapels and insists we listen to the story it has to tell. It's a picture of hell, really, of a life lived under the cruelest duress.
There may yet be a history written of the friendship between these two men, who seem as stylistically and spiritually sympatico as Mozart and Haydn were. Frequent recital partners, chess pals, alter egos to one another, they are seen by some as two sides of the same split persona. But Weinberg's music is finally moving out of the shadow of his great friend; paradoxically, it is his tribute to DSCH that affords us a clearer picture of Weinberg's own greatness.
In a sense, Weinberg served as Shostakovich's moral conscience. There can be no doubting that the Jewish themes embodied in Shostakovich's later music had their literal embodiment and reflection in Weinberg's own suffering. His family wiped out by the Nazis, Weinberg fled east to Moscow, where his nightmare existence as a Jew in an anti-Semitic state continued practically until the end of his life in 1996. Unlike Shostakovich, Weinberg was actually imprisoned in Stalin's gulag before Shostakovich intervened for his release. It is a wonder that anyone can keep his wits about him under such circumstances, never mind create music of high craft, inspiration and purpose. But while it's clear that Shostakovich internalized a lot of Weinberg's existential fear and suffering, it's equally clear that Weinberg himself could not or would not be silenced. He fulfilled his artistic imperatives and gave expression to his great talents. In the West, this is not so hard to do. In the Soviet Union, it required more than a little courage. And the end products were and are, shall we say, different in character. Weinberg's statement was one of necessity. He said what needed to be said.
Weinberg's music has been described as Shostokovich without the sardonic wit. I'm not sure how that applies here. Certainly, Weinberg is not hiding behind an ironic pose here. In this work, episodes of brutal claustrophobia -- a scarifying Reality theme runs obsessively through the first movement -- slip into dreamy, dissociative, Schubertian daydreams, as if the artist's ego were breaking down from the strain of continual existential dread. The Adagio contains a moment of sudden catastrophic arrival that is as chilling as the death chord in Mahler's 10th symphony. And the last few bars of the work are profoundly disquieting, as the deathbed peace we have finally arrived at is suddenly upended by means of the most minimal gesture imaginable, throwing the sum total of a man's life eternally off balance. This moment is accomplished with ghostly great effect by Vladimir Lande and his St. Petersburg orchestra.
As honorable an undertaking as this recording is, it unfortunately pales in comparison to Maxim Shostakovich's premiere recording with the USSR Symphony. Naxos is to be commended for helping spring the Weinberg revival, but I have some doubts about its recording team. This St. Petersburg orchestra will never be mistaken for the Leningrad Philharmonic, much less the USSR Symphony, whose recording, conducted by the dedicatee's son, enjoys a special authority. There is something scarifyingly intense about the how the old Soviet orchestras played -- really, as if their lives depended on it. The recording, available on the Olympia label, reveals a virtuoso orchestra that plays with superior intonation and ensemble, and, moreover, with a powerful sonic impact that will penetrate straight into your soul. The (presumably Melodiya) recording is not without its flaws -- weird false echo and other artifacts -- but the performance has a brutal virtuosity and the absolute courage of its convictions. Maxim and his boys knew they were leaving behind a testament, a footnote to history, to which all of eternity would be listening.
The Golden Key Suite also shows Weinberg’s mastery of a large orchestral palette, but in a lighter mood. The composer looks back to Prokofiev and Stravinsky in this suite chosen from music written for a 1962 ballet. Kudos to Naxos, and Chandos as well, as they continue building a picture of an important 20th century artist.