Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Weinberg's Third Symphony

Weinberg: Symphony no.3; The Golden Key suite no.4
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/Thord Svedlund

Out of nowhere appears a symphony that I am happy to describe immediately as one of my all-time favourites. I've heard and liked a few Weinberg releases, not least of which was the recent CPO album of piano music performed by Elisaveta Blumina - the 3 Children's Notebooks and first piano sonata. Svedlund and Gothenburg have previously recorded 2 other Weinberg discs for Chandos; I've heard the one with several concertos on it, and really liked that too. The official shorthand description of Weinberg is "he's kind-of a Polish Shostakovich, but it's not that straightforward because they influenced each other". So I am predisposed to think that any given Weinberg album could be a good 'un, but I wasn't prepared for how much I'd like his Symphony no.3. It didn't take long: the opening bars are reminiscent of Schubert's 8th with their scurrying strings, overlaid by a sinuous, yes, kind-of-Shostakovich-like, melody in the winds. It's an instant hook, I think, actually rather like you might get in the theme music for some superior thriller: it promises a lot. Then, when you think the music might turn into a, yes, kind-of-Shostakovich-like, extended slow introduction, it quickly becomes something else entirely, and we're given a rather balmy tune of the sort you might expect from Malcolm Arnold, then after a few minutes there's some rather martial music; and so on. This is the sort of symphony I love - full of incident, little hooks and quirks, clever and just-right bits of odd or unexpected orchestration, some sort of narrative. I should point out here that the symphony was originally composed in 1949-50, at a time when Weinberg and all other Soviet composers were under strict orders to Not Be Formalist; Weinberg took this imposition as an opportunity to explore the use of folk music in a symphony. The work nevertheless didn't get performed, possibly because of official pressure, and Weinberg revised it a decade later so that it received its premiere in 1960. (So Weinberg's 3rd was composed between Shostakovich's 9th and 10th symphonies, and revised between his 11th and 12th.)
The second movement is marked Allegro giocoso and that's a good description of it, a jolly affair with lots of dancing. If we're playing spot-the-things-it-reminds-me-of (very different from spot-the-influences, you understand) then I'd put this closer to Mahler's bumptious scherzos than to Shostakovich's more blackly humourous ones. The third movement is an Adagio, and were it somehow to become known to the world as "Weinberg's Adagio" this would be no bad thing; it's another folk-inflected movement, sedate and beautiful but building to a dark climax. Will I hear anything lovelier this year? And finally the finale, which kicks off with swaggering, martial music that's, oh all right, kind-of-Shostakovich-like but again wanders off into Mahler territory, such as the shaky and possibly drunken dance episode about two minutes in. Things build to a near-cataclysm but then there's an amazing interruption when the winds take over and we drift off into reverie - before the martial swagger returns and the symphony comes to a slightly unexpectedly quick end that somehow manages to suggest "To be continued".
The album also comes with the last of the 4 suites of music Weinberg produced from his 1954-55 ballet The Golden Key. This is light stuff, what you might expect from a mid-century Russian fairy-tale ballet, I suppose. Nicely done, but very much eclipsed by the symphony. If you pay an album price, as opposed to per-track like I did via eMusic, then you might be annoyed to discover you've got less than 50 minutes of music on the disc. But I would say the symphony's worth it. "Want List material", as they say in Fanfare.


Jon said...

If you pay an album price, as opposed to per-track like I did via eMusic...

Maybe I'm misunderstood, but you can't get the symphony on a per track basis via eMusic, as the first movement is an "Album Only" track - see

Jon said...

How did you get the Weinberg on a per-track basis from emusic? The first movement is "Album only" when I look, meaning I've got to buy the whole thing.


Nereffid said...

I just meant that on emusic I'm still paying by the track, not by the album, so the number of tracks rather than the length of the album is the deciding factor in whether it's good value. Taking into account my "bonus" on my grandfathered sub the album cost me around €2.30.

Jon said...

Ah, my misunderstanding. Sorry for the "duplicate comment", but the first one seemed to have disappeared, so I posted the second one. Feel free to delete one or the other.

And thanks for the Weinberg 'tip'.