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Customer Reviews

Soviet Symphonist

Mieczyslaw Weinberg fled his native Warsaw after the Nazi blitz of 1939 and made his way to Minsk. The Weinbergs were Jews and his sister and parents didn’t get out, so they were killed at the Trawniki concentration camp. In Minsk Weinberg studied composition with Rimsky-Korsakov acolyte Vasily Zolotaryov, Weinberg studied well (thankfully rejecting Rimsky’s vulgarity), and also came under the spell of Shostakovich’s epochal Fifth Symphony. The foundations were now in place for his First Symphony. The Nazis rumbled into Russia in 1942 and Weinberg had to flee by train via Moscow to Tashkent (something of a center for displaced Russian artists) and lived to compose another day. While in Tashkent Weinberg was persuaded to send the score of his First Symphony to Shostakovich. The master endorsed the work and it paved the way for Weinberg to settle in Moscow for the rest of his life.

Dedicated to the Red Army, the First Symphony is electrifying. The opening movement is sweeping and grand, while the second movement Lento is more intimate. Echoes of Shostakovich ring out in the third movement scherzo, a study in quirky rhythmic energy. The finale has the same drive as the opening movement and builds to a powerful conclusion. Here’s another in a string of great Soviet wartime symphonies.

The Seventh Symphony (1964) is one of Weinberg’s chamber symphonies, a form that was popular in the Soviet Union of the 1960s. Scored for harpsichord and strings, the work unfolds in five seamless movements. The anguished string writing of the opening Adagio is all the more haunting when the harpsichord makes its furtive entrance, and the instrument assumes a continuo-like role in the agitated second movement. The harpsichord lays out in the melancholy third movement and dark fourth movement Adagio sostenuto. The finale opens as a quicksilver Allegro before fading to another gloomy Adagio. The movement is memorable for the harpsichord imitating the sound of a mandolin, col legno strings and the sounds of the string players tapping on the bodies of their instruments.

The Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Thord Svedlund are outstanding in the First Symphony. While I would have liked a bit more rhythmic pulse in the Seventh Symphony, the performance is still quite good and kudos to harpsichordist Erik Risberg who handles his very weird role quite well.

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Weinberg: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 7, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
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