Prokofiev • Weinberg
Weinberg: Symphony No. 5; Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5
Sinfonia Iuventus/Gabriel Chmura
Warner Classics 9029581271
The harmonic and textural adventurousness of Weinberg’s powerful Fifth Symphony is indicative of the changing cultural climate in the Soviet Union during the early 1960s. A large-scale four-movement work that moves from a restless opening Allegro moderato and a gloomy Adagio sostenuto to a grotesque Scherzo and an elegiac and emotionally ambiguous Andantino Finale, this is hardly a conventional Socialist Realist symphonic narrative. More specifically, Weinbergwrote the work under the overwhelming impact of hearing the belated premiere of Shostakovich’s rehabilitated Fourth Symphony in 1961. In the same way as in the Shostakovich, Weinberg juxtaposes starkly contrasting musical imagery within specific movements, though the only obvious allusion to the older composer’s work comes in the sinister celesta motif that colours the haunting closing bars.
In contrast Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony appears, at least on the surface, to present a much more optimistic demeanour, purportedly capturing a communal sense of relief as the devastating tragedy that had engulfed the Soviet Union during the Second World War was at last coming to an end. At the same time disturbing, even tragic elements are never far from the surface, and these resonances are most effectively projected in the performance from Sinfonia Iuventus and Gabriel Chmura, especially in such passages as the violent climax of the slow movement.
The orchestra, made up of the most gifted young Polish musicians, certainly master all the technical difficulties of these two scores and Chmura, who has already recorded Weinberg’s Fifth for Chandos, delivers a strong and compelling interpretation of this work. But the Prokofiev is a comparative disappointment, requiring far more fantasy and characterisation to really come alive.