Weinberg Symphonic Trilogy Completed

This release includes the world premiere recording of Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s 1950 Suite for Orchestra. And what a delight. The Suite includes a Ravel-like Romance, a Rossini/Tchaikovsky hybrid Humoresque, a Prokofiev-inspired Polka, and concludes with a raucous circus band Galop.

While enjoyable for its own light-hearted merits, the Suite also provides a welcome emotional balance to the other work on this release, Weinberg’s Symphony No. 17.

Symphony No. 17, “Memory,” completes Weinberg’s massive symphonic trilogy, On the Threshold of War. The three symphonies process the emotional trauma the Russian people suffered during the  Second World War. The title, “Memory,” references a poem of Anna Akhmatova. “…in the treasure-house of the people’s memory, there will always remain the incinerated years of war.”

The symphony begins somberly, with ambivalent tonality. Over its 45-minute span, the symphony relentlessly builds to its climax. Explosive outbursts disrupt but never derail the momentum of the music. And then, after it reaches its conclusion, the symphony doesn’t provide a coda lower the energy and stop the motion. Rather, it just abruptly stops, letting the sound dissipate into the air — much like memories of unresolved issues.

To my ears, the work resembles Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” Symphony in its depiction of conflict, but in a more polished and tightly organized fashion. Yet, as with the “Leningrad,” the raw emotional content is never far from the surface. Weinberg experienced the horrors of the Great Patriotic War firsthand. Though he composed the trilogy in the 1980s, the pain seems little dimmed four decades later.

Vladimir Lande and the Siberian State Orchestra perform this powerful work with commitment and energy. And with sensitivity, giving Weinberg’s introspective passages the delicate poignancy they need. Lande and the SSO have also recorded the other parts of the trilogy: Symphony No. 18, “War — there is no word more cruel” (Naxos 8.57190), and Symphony No. 19, “Bright May” (Naxos 8.572752).

Each work is an effective and complete musical statement. But now that all three parts have been released, I feel compelled to sit down and listen to this trilogy from beginning to end. Only then, I think, can I fully appreciate what Weinberg is trying to communicate.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg: Symphony No. 17, Op. 137 “Memory”; Suite for Orchestra (world premiere recording)

Siberian State Symphony Orchestra; Vladimir Lande, conductor

Naxos 8.573565

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