Weinberg: Symphony No. 21, Op. 152 & Polish Tunes, Op. 47

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COMPOSERS: Weinberg
LABELS: Toccata
ALBUM TITLE: Weinberg: Symphony No. 21, Op. 152 & Polish Tunes, Op. 47
WORKS: Symphony No. 21, Op. 152 & Polish Tunes, Op. 47
PERFORMER: Veronika Bertenyeva (soprano); Siberian Symphony Orchestra/ Dmitry Vasilyev

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Given the increased exposure to Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s output  in recent years, it’s something of a coup for Toccata Classics to have brought together two world premiere recordings of his orchestral music for this fascinating release. The works in question could not be more contrasting in style. First comes Polish Tunes, a four-movement suite composed in 1950 at a time when Soviet composers were obliged by the Stalin regime to write accessible, life-affirming music influenced by folk idioms. Weinberg duly complied, producing a work that is attractive and suitably upbeat. The Siberian Symphony Orchestra relish its moments of virtuosity, delivering supple playing and a level of commitment which is maintained in the more complex writing of Symphony No. 21 (1989-91).

Whether or not it was a deliberate ploy on the part of the producer to allow almost no silence between the closing bars of Polish Tunes and the bleak elegiac string threnody that opens Weinberg’s last completed symphony, the juxtaposition in mood is both startling and disturbing. There is a Polish connection to this work too, most notably manifested in the haunting quotation from Chopin’s First Ballade which punctuates the score. But any nostalgia for the country of the composer’s birth gives way to anger and bitterness, since the Symphony, conceived as an unbroken one movement work in six sections, is dedicated to the memory of those who died in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II.

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Much of the landscape is sombre and introverted, sparsely scored sections in slow tempo disrupted from time to time by violent eruptions of anger and aggression from the full orchestra recalling the symphonies of Giya Kancheli. On first impression, the work seems a bit long-winded, but there’s no doubting the sincerity and depth of Weinberg’s musical thinking. Erik Levi