Weinberg: Dawn; Symphony No 12. BBC Philharmonic / John Storgårds. © 2023 Chandos Records Ltd


Beautiful, Powerful Music

GEOFF PEARCE marvels at this new recording of orchestral music by Mieczysław Weinberg

'The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra is on top form ...'


I have been listening to quite a lot of the music of Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996) recently, since I first heard his gorgeous cello concerto. Before this time, like many listeners, I had not heard any of his music and knew absolutely nothing about him. He was certainly not known to me whilst I was a music student, and it is only recently that there has been an interest in his music, which has resulted in a number of fine recordings and performances.

This Chandos disc, Weinberg: Dawn; Symphony No 12, opens with a tone poem entitled Dawn (Zarya) and is the composer's Op 60. It was written to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the October 1917 Russian revolution. Whilst leading artists and composers were expected under the Soviet Union to contribute to these five yearly events, it appears that this work was not performed in the composer's lifetime, and didn't make its first appearance until a recording made in Manchester in 2019, under the baton of John Storgårds.

The tone poem takes just about seventeen minutes, and starts almost from nothing with basses and muted brass. This quiet, mysterious mode is maintained, even with the addition of woodwind, until a lovely flute solo appears. It does remind me of some of the quiet and mysterious moments that occur in some Shostakovich symphonies; indeed the influence of Weinberg's friend and mentor Shostakovich is felt. All of a sudden, the music takes quite an animated and anguished turn, depicting the revolution and the call to arms.

Listen — Weinberg: Dawn
(CHAN 20165 track 1, 6:36-7:13) ℗ 2023 Chandos Records Ltd :

This is colourful, stirring music, written by a fine composer who is secure in both his structural command and very effective orchestration. The music becomes more frenzied, until finally triumphant when the battle is over, peace is restored and the music is calm again until the final few moments, when there is again an anguished flurry of activity, before a triumphant ending depicts victory.

The Twelfth Symphony (Opus 114), composed between the end of 1975 and early 1976, is dedicated to the memory of Weinberg's friend Shostakovich who died in 1975. It is a long work - the longest of his purely symphonic symphonies - at just under one hour in duration, and is in four movements.

The first movement takes about twenty minutes, and has quite a few changes of mood and tempi over its course. It is powerful and has a unique style all of its own, and again Weinberg shows what a brilliant orchestrator he is. At times, as fitting the dedication, one can sense the presence of Shostakovich, but this work could certainly not be mistaken for him, but the respect that Weinberg had for his friend is evident.

Listen — Weinberg: Allegro moderato ... (Symphony No 12)
(CHAN 20165 track 2, 10:25-11:21) ℗ 2023 Chandos Records Ltd :

The second movement, a scherzo, is a kind of concerto for orchestra movement, that some people say is at times both like a Shostakovich scherzo and yet also reminiscent of Lutosławski's Concerto for Orchestra. It is certainly unusual and somewhat quirky, and there are surprising turns at every moment.

Listen — Weinberg: Allegretto (Symphony No 12)
(CHAN 20165 track 3, 4:14-4:59) ℗ 2023 Chandos Records Ltd :

The Adagio which follows is brooding and beautiful, and again there are moments where the influence of Shostakovich is felt, really as a tribute rather than with any attempt to imitate. There is sorrow and resignation in this beautiful, powerful music, without it being overwhelming. It is a masterpiece of restraint. There is an impassioned outburst about half way through but this is kept in check and subsides quickly.

Listen — Weinberg: Adagio (Symphony No 12)
(CHAN 20165 track 4, 4:49-5:44) ℗ 2023 Chandos Records Ltd :

The last movement is again long - about eighteen minutes in length. It goes through many changes of mood, from the almost playful, childlike opening to quite anguished moments and others that have a rather disquieting effect. Here, the listener is taken on an ever twisting and changing journey, and one is not sure what is going to happen next. There is even what I believe is a quote from the first movement of Shostakovich's 15th Symphony. This enigmatic music, especially in the coda, is probably my favourite movement of the symphony.

Listen — Weinberg: Allegro - Adagio (Symphony No 12)
(CHAN 20165 track 5, 9:58-10:58) ℗ 2023 Chandos Records Ltd :

The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra is on top form, and obviously knows and respects chief conductor John Storgårds - a musician who always impresses me. All sections of the orchestra, whether playing solos or in ensemble, are simply marvellous. The recorded sound quality is excellent, as are the booklet notes, the bulk of which were written by the conductor. This truly is a 'must have' recording.

Copyright © 23 September 2023 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia



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