Chamber Symphoinies Nos 2 & 4
East-West Chamber Orchestra/Rostislav Krimer
Naxos 8.574210 57:17 mins
Mieczysław Weinberg’s Chamber Symphonies represent one of the richest harvests of his final years. They were written at a time when the composer, already in poor health, felt increasingly isolated from the outside world and began to reflect more intensively upon past achievements. This explains the unique status of the first three Chamber Symphonies, each of which not only revisits one of Weinberg’s early String Quartets, but also subjects much of their original musical material to subtle adjustments in mood and texture.
In the case of the Second Chamber Symphony, which is based on the Third String Quartet, these transformations are particularly significant. Weinberg supplies an entirely different second movement, provides additional instrumental parts for solo violin and timpani
and dispenses entirely with the original Finale movement, thereby ending the work in a defiant and anguished manner.
In contrast, the Fourth Chamber Symphony bears no tangible relationship to any of Weinberg’s earlier compositions, although many of its musical references, in particular the wild klezmer writing for clarinet which comes to the fore in the second movement, cover familiar ground. Although it’s tempting to draw parallels between late Weinberg and his mentor Shostakovich, I detected in this work an even closer affinity with the music of Benjamin Britten.
Rostislav Krimer and the East-West Chamber Orchestra, which is based in Minsk, deliver exceptionally fine performances of these two works. I was particularly impressed by the quality of string playing in the extremely taxing Second Chamber Symphony, not least the capacity of these performers to create a real sense of mystery in the many passages which Weinberg marks to be played treble pianissimo.