Weinberg: Chamber Symphonies Nos 3 & 4

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COMPOSERS: Weinberg
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Chamber Symphonies Nos 3 & 4
PERFORMER: Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra/ Thord Svedlund
CATALOGUE NO: CHSA5146 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Mieczysław Weinberg’s Third and Fourth Chamber symphonies are late works written during the 1990s when, owing to ill-health and increasing neglect, the composer became somewhat isolated from the mainstream of Russian musical life. At this stage in his career, it was perhaps understandable that Weinberg should look back to earlier achievements. So it’s not that surprising that much of the material, at least in the first three movements of the Third Chamber Symphony, is derived from his Fifth String Quartet composed a few months after the end of the Second World War.

Bittersweet, nostalgic, often restrained in expression, this is a musically compelling work which concludes with a pensive waltz punctuated from time to time by a strange almost archaically harmonised passage for solo strings which the composer borrowed from one of his operas.

Similar self-borrowings abound in the more inscrutable Fourth Chamber Symphony scored for clarinet, string orchestra and triangle, the latter instrument appearing somewhat enigmatically in the work’s Finale. Once again, the predominant mood is reflective, though the Allegro molto second movement provides dramatic contrast featuring music that is aggressive and anguished, its insistent percussive ostinatos somewhat reminiscent of Bartók.

Over 15 years ago Swedish conductor Thord Svedlund made a pioneering recording of the Fourth Chamber Symphony with the Umeå Symphony Orchestra, a version which is currently available on the Alto label. But this new release boasts superior orchestral playing and a more nuanced view of the music supported by an outstanding recording. Collectors of Chandos’s already excellent Weinberg series should seriously consider investing in this disc, particularly for the memorable Third Chamber Symphony.

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Erik Levi