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Symphony No. 6/Sinfonietta No. 1 - Weinberg Edition Vol. 1

NEOS 11125CD NEOS 11125CD

2011 release. Stereo/5.1 multichannel hybrid CD/SACD release that can be played on any CD player. Symphony No. 6: Stalin's death, in 1953, was followed in the Soviet Union by a "period of thaw", and artists were able to evolve in somewhat greater freedom. Even Mieczyslaw Weinberg, a Jewish-Polish composer who fled to the Soviet Union when Germany invaded Poland, entered a productive period that culminated in the 1960s. These years witnessed the origin of his Sixth, Eighth and Ninth Symphonies, in which he came to terms with the war on large-scale symphonic canvases with chorus. Beethoven's idea of yoking together an orchestra and chorus into a towering "world symphony" had been adopted by Mahler at the turn of the century. Yet the earnest idiom of this music may have been influenced not only by the Second World War, but also by the persecution of the Jews and Weinberg's own imprisonment under Stalin. On 12 November 1963 the work was given its premiere in Moscow, with Kyrill Kondrashin conducting the Moscow Philharmonic and the boys' choir of the Moscow Choral School. The symphony's contemplative introduction already hints at harrowing experiences, with the horn expressively stating a lamento theme. Equally revealing is the choice of the three texts: the second movement is based on a poem by Lev Kvitko (1890-1952), a Jewish writer shot by the Russian secret police in 1952 during the Stalinist "purges." Similarly, the fourth movement is based on a poem by Shmuel Halkin (1897-1960), who suffered many years of imprisonment. Only the finale makes use of a poem congenial to the regime, by the popular writer Mikhail Lukonin (b. 1918). The middle poem is a moving account of the Nazi's massacre of Kiev Jews in 1941, a subject that Shostakovich likewise took up at the same time in his Babi Yar Symphony. With desolate words, Halkin recalls the "screams of children in the night". The use of a boys' choir gives this section an agonising impact, with the dynamics also adding to the tension. The provocatively savage scherzo unites the tradition of Bruckner and Mahler with Shostakovich's vein of sarcasm. Especially remarkable is the contrapuntal writing, a demonstration of Weinberg's mastery. The fact that the symphony brightens toward the end may be a nod to the strictures of "socialist realism." Listeners were not allowed to be all-too downcast when they left the hall; the underlying message always had to be the victory and peace achieved by the Red Army. At first Weinberg combines the radiant and tranquil A-major ending with a reminiscence from the dolorous first movement. But hope for a life of peace clears the path to a sunrise on the Volga, the Mississippi and the Mekong, binding these nations together. Finally a solitary violin sings of "peace on earth." Sinfonietta No. 1: It seems almost cynical that Tikhon Khrennikov, of the Union of Soviet Composers, should have called Mieczyslaw Weinberg's First Sinfonietta a "bright, optimistic work [...] about the radiant, free working lives of the Jewish people in the land of socialism." After all, the work arose in 1948 against the backdrop of renewed anti-Jewish sentiment and the muzzling of composers under Stalinism. But in this case the government found the piece's affirmative and accessible character perfectly acceptable. It contained none of the "modernisms" for which Weinberg had earlier been chastised. Yet this work, too, is progressive and at the forefront of its day. Its captivating spirit of Jewish folk music distracted from its sophisticated "formalism." On the surface, the Sinfonietta No. 1, op. 41, is a bravura orchestral piece with brash themes and splendid cantilenas. The folk inflection is insured by the inclusion of such melodic peculiarities as augmented 2nds. Striking solos are given to instruments such as the oboe, violin and horn, notably in the slow movement. The recapitulations in the outside movements are cleverly abbreviated, and the scherzo tends, atypically, toward a set of variations. There may be passages that recall Weinberg's friend Dmitri Shostakovich, who likewise managed in several works to negotiate the tightrope walk between an entertaining exterior and a profound substructure. Weinberg himself dismissed any stylistic parallels with the man he called "the greatest composer of the 20th century" and pointed to a more intrinsic relation: "Many people believe, or have even written, that I studied with Shostakovich, which was not the case. That said, the Shostakovich school was of seminal importance for my artistic work." Performed by: Wiener Sangerknaben, Gerald Wirth (choirmaster), Wiener Symphoniker, Vladimir Fedoseyev (conductor), Symphonieorchester Vorarlberg, Gerard Korsten (conductor).