Monday 13 January 2014

Review: Symphony No. 12, Golden Key, Suite No. 4 - Vladimir Lande and the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra

The latest installment in Naxos' ongoing survey of Weinberg's symphonies: the verdict - great music with a good standard of performance (though not excellent). 

Every part of me wishes to praise this recording, if only for the music featured. Weinberg's 12th Symphony stands among his best, largely due to the heart-felt dedication following Shostakovich's death, and the Golden Key remains an entertaining ballet, demonstrating Weinberg at his most playful. 

The pairing of Lande with the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra gave us the excellent recordings of the Sixth and Nineteenth Symphonies, both from 2012. While featuring excellent music, this disc fails to demonstrate the same unity and energy to be heard in their previous two recordings. 

Weinberg's Twelfth Symphony, Op. 114, was written in 1976, dedicated to Shostakovich. It joins the ranks of a glut of works similarly dedicated following Shostakovich's death in 1975, including Tishchenko's Fifth Symphony and Schnittke's Prelude in Memoriam Shostakovich. Weinberg's Twelfth is somewhat unusual in its lack of direct quotation from Shostakovich's music - for instance, there is a large number of dedicated works built around the 'DSCH' motif. Weinberg's Twelfth avoids such direct reference, instead choosing to emulate him stylistically, simultaneously raising questions about where to go following the loss of such an inspirational figure. 

The work opens with a declamatory unison sequence across the orchestra, searching for a stable centre. Unfortunately, the strings seem to fall victim to the higher passages in the opening movement, resorting to a near-shrieking style that soon becomes uncomfortable. Tempos are taken at a relatively safe pace, compared to previous recordings (see recommended further listening, below). 

The release does come into its own following the opening, the more playful Allegretto second movement showcasing the vitality that this ensemble has injected into their previous recordings (perhaps a shame it couldn't have seeped its way into the first movement!). The string section reclaim their dignity in the Adagio third movement, where they take a tender focus, giving a heart-breaking softness. The finale stands out as an excellent movement, notable from its opening xylophone, linked attacca from the previous movement. With such a distinct motif, the music gathers pace, and Lande does full justice to this rousing finale. 

The pairing of the symphony with the Fourth Suite from Weinberg's ballet The Golden Key is an example of excellent programming - the contrast between the works is striking, allowing the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra full reign to showcase their range, particularly effective in the dance-like, cheeky passages in the suite. Richard Whitehouse's liner notes provide excellent background information for both works. 

I strongly recommend this recording, partly for its ambition and its place within the Naxos symphony cycle, as well as its excellent interpretation of the Golden Key suite. For an authoritative recording of the Twelfth Symphony I would look elsewhere, however.

Links for further reading: Naxos website link 
And a podcast about the recording from Naxos: link

Recommended further listening
For an contrasting recording, I recommend Vladimir Fedoseyev with the USSR TV and Radio Symphony Orchestra in their release, originally available on vinyl, conveniently uploaded on youtube:

For my 'authoritative' recording, I direct the reader to the second volume of Olympia's 'Vainberg' series, featuring the Twelfth Symphony performed by the forces that premiered the work, recorded a month after the premiere. The dedication is made all the more emotional by the presence of Shostakovich's son Maxim conducting (recording quality is poor compared to the Lande version - but the conviction in performance more than makes up for this).

Also available to listen on youtube (in six parts): 

Of course, I also direct the reader to Lande's previous Weinberg recordings on the Naxos label - both of them excellent.

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