Weinberg’s Bittersweet Chamber Symphonies

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

This disc completes Naxos’ survey of the four Weinberg Chamber Symphonies, featuring the excellent East-West Chamber Orchestra under Rostislav Krimer. As with the prior release, containing Nos. 1 and 3, and performances are sensitive, assured, expressively intense, and well-engineered. The composer’s daughter contributes a touching note of thanks as a preface to the very thorough and well-written booklet note. This is the way such things ought to be done.

The Second Chamber Symphony, for strings and timpani, reworks material from one of Weinberg’s earlier string quartets, but you don’t have to go racing to look for the earlier work. Its structure is unusual: three movements that get progressively slower, but don’t worry about that. As anyone who knows Weinberg’s work will understand, the level of tension doesn’t decrease just because the music slows down. Weinberg’s music has often been compared to that of Shostakovich, and with good reason. There’s a very similar mix of angst, desolation, and bittersweet lyricism in both. The language is tonal, and some of the thematic material is quite memorable, but the overall impression remains one of sadness and resignation.

These observations are even more true of the Fourth Chamber Symphony, for strings, clarinet, and triangle. Cast in four movements lasting about thirty-five minutes, this is a very substantial piece, and the if the music weren’t so achingly lonely, especially in the finale, it could be a popular work with clarinetists. Certainly soloist Igor Fedorov plays very beautifully, with liquid tone and a very wide range of expression. That last, gentle tap of the triangle at the very end might remind some listeners of the conclusion of Shostakovich’s Fifteenth Symphony.

While there’s no question that Weinberg speaks with his own voice, I do wonder just how much appetite there is today for soundscapes of such a similarly sparse, haunted kind. In short, you’ve got to be in the mood; but if you are, then this excellent release and its earlier companion will provide plenty of musical satisfaction.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

  • Igor Fedorov, clarinet
  • East-West Chamber Orchestra, Rostislav Krimer (cond.)

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