Weinberg’s Chamber Symphonies Nos 1-4

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WORKS: Chamber Symphonies Nos 1-4; Piano Quintet, Op. 18
PERFORMER: Yulianna Avdeeva, Andrei Pushkarev, Mate Bekavac; Kremerata Baltica/Gidon Kremer, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla

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In recent years, Gidon Kremer has become a passionate advocate of the music of Mieczysaw Weinberg. In an eloquent essay, published in the booklet notes, Kremer describes Weinberg as ‘a source of unlimited inspiration’. No other composer, he argues, has entered his own repertory and that of the Kremerata Baltica with such intensity. 

Kremer’s commitment is clear in this compellingly performed release of the four chamber symphonies Weinberg composed during the last decade of his life, a period marked by ill health and growing isolation from the Russian mainstream. The overriding atmosphere in all these works is introspective and restrained, the music often tinged with a bittersweet, almost Mahlerian vein of nostalgia. Cryptic allusions to earlier works predominate, and the main thematic material of the first three chamber symphonies, recorded live at Vienna’s Musikverein, derives from string quartets Weinberg composed in the 1940s. The Fourth Chamber Symphony is perhaps more difficult to fathom on first hearing, but under the inspirational conducting of Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, the anguished climax of its Adagio section achieves a greater degree of urgency than on the rival Chandos recording from the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra.

More potentially contentious is Kremer and Andrei Pushkarev’s arrangement of Weinberg’s earlier Piano Quintet as a work for piano, string orchestra and percussion. Although it would have been interesting to hear Kremer and pianist Yulianna Avdeeva perform the work in its original instrumentation, there is no doubt that this transcription significantly enhances the music’s dramatic and emotional range.

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Erik Levi