Weinberg: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 21
Gidon Kremer (violin), Kremerata Baltica, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (conductor)
For her debut on the DG label, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla gives us two symphonies from the Polish born Soviet composer Mieczysław Weinberg. First up we have the early Symphony No. 2 for string orchestra, Op. 30 performed with the Kremerata Baltica. For the much later Symphony No. 21, Op. 152, ‘Kaddish’, completed in 1991, they are joined by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and their artist-in-residence the violinist Gidon Kremer who performs the many violin solos, in this recording made in the Symphony Hall, Birmingham last November.
For those readers who are unfamiliar with the work of Weinberg his output includes twenty-two symphonies and seventeen string quartets. His bleak string writing is very reminiscent of Shostakovich whilst in the later symphony presented here there are quotes from Mahler and others, including Chopin.
Symphony No. 2 for string orchestra, Op. 30 shows Weinberg as having fully embraced symphonic style and compositional tradition. In the first and second movements Weinberg makes use of programmatic elements and the second movement is almost Schumannesque. This work has a depth and beauty that make it surprising that it has not been more frequently performed.
However it is the epic Symphony No. 21 ‘Kaddish’, a single-movement elegy in six sections lasting almost 55 minutes, that, in this exceptionally well-prepared performance, is the main reason to seek out this album. This symphony, dedicated to the victims of the Warsaw ghetto, is appropriately presented by Mirga and her assembled forces as a work of enormous power; one that is by turns desolate, anguished and angry. In the closing pages of the work some sense of light and hope is brought to this portrayal of inhumanity by the voice of the wordless soprano. In spite of the sprawling nature and patchwork quality of this symphony, Gražinytė-Tyla shows a clear grasp of the symphony’s architecture and it is hard to see this work getting a finer performance than this.
In the sleeve notes there is a tantalising hint of more to come and I, for one, cannot wait to hear more of this conductor, who clearly holds Weinberg’s work in the highest regard, performing more of his output. Perhaps we can expect the Violin Concerto in G minor, Op. 67 performed by these forces in Birmingham last month?
In the meanwhile if this tempts you to further explore the work of this unjustly neglected composer then I can recommend that you seek out some of Thord Svedlund’s recordings on Chandos with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra – they, too, are well worth a listen.