Tuesday 4 February 2014

Review: 'Mieczysław Weinberg', Gidon Kremer & Kremerata Baltica

This album sets a new high-water mark for the ongoing Weinberg revival.

Gidon Kremer is one of the most famous violinists of our time; the announcement of an all-Weinberg release from him and his Chamber Orchestra of Baltic musicians made for high expectations. Over the course of his career, Kremer has been a pioneer for programming Soviet and/or Russian music, including the likes of Schnittke, Pärt, and Sylvestrov. In a series of concerts towards the end of last year, Kremer toured with Martha Argerich, performing works by Weinberg and Beethoven.

This 2-CD set presents something of a retrospective, moving from chamber music works on the first disc to two orchestral pieces on the second disc. Particularly notable is the range of works chosen: music from Weinberg's tuneful and heartfelt earlier period, and also more intricate, 'difficult' works from later in his career. The running order goes as follows:

CD 1
Sonata No. 3 for Solo Violin, Op. 126 (1979)

Trio for Violin, Viola and Cello, Op. 48 (1950)

Sonatina for Violin and Piano, Op. 46 (1949)

CD 2

Concertino for Violin and String Orchestra, Op. 42 (1948)

Symphony No. 10, Op. 98 (1968)

From quick inspection, three of these works are from one close-knit period, 1948-50, yet they are adequately distinct from one another to still present something of a Weinberg 'portrait'. More impressive is the brave decision to open with Weinberg's Third Sonata for solo violin, a thoroughly challenging work for both performer and listener. Striking from the very opening is Kremer's complete command of the music - with his detailed knowledge of Russian/Soviet repertoire, Kremer appears to effortlessly slip into Weinberg's demanding style and idiosyncrasies. One could be forgiven for feeling emotionally drained after Kremer's roller-coaster performance to open the record. To follow with the warm and melodic Trio for violin, viola and cello is a stroke of programming genius. 
   Kremer is joined by Daniil Grishin (viola) and Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė (cello) for the Trio. Over the course of the work, it is plain to tell that the insightful interpretation of Weinberg's style is not limited to the Kremerata Baltica's concertmaster alone - Grishin and Dirvanauskaitė prove themselves more than capable. Excellent ensemble is complimented by a warm and responsive recording, perfectly balanced against the cold and frantic character of the solo sonata that preceded. (If the Baltica ever needed ideas about further Weinberg works to record, I would suggest that they turn their attentions to any of the 17 string quartets, judging by the standard of this trio performance).

   For the Sonatina for violin and piano, Kremer is joined by Daniil Trifonov on piano, himself an up-and-coming superstar. At the age of 22, Trifonov is already making waves, praised by Martha Argerich, with recordings on the Deutsche Grammaphon label. In combination, Trifonov and Kremer transform this Sonatina into a multi-layered performance that showcases both of their talents excellently. In particular, the 'Lento' middle movement is poignant and beautiful in their hands. 

   For the second disc, the rest of the Kremerata Baltica join, beginning with the Concertino for violin and string orchestra. This work has received particular attention in recent recordings, this disc making it three different versions released over the last six months. Needless to say, Kremer's turn as orchestral soloist is his shining moment for the whole album. A perfect balance between restraint and heart-felt passion marks Kremer's version as outstanding (I'm especially a fan of the choice of tempi compared to other recordings - with a very close adherance to Weinberg's demanding indications in the score). Needless to say, Kremer's cadenza is breathtaking. 

  For the final work on the album, an altogether more demanding piece. Weinberg's Tenth Symphony, written 1968, reflects his forays into twelve-note writing and experimentation with large-scale forms. The five-movement piece requires multiple listens to penetrate its confrontational sound-world - though once achieved, it is hugely rewarding. The mood tends towards slow and pensive - particularly in the opening movement. Special mention needs to made of Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė's solo cello playing, with complemented by Daniil Grishin on viola and Danielis Rubinas on Double Bass, with smaller ensemble playing that balances extended solo passages. This recording is easily the best of Weinberg's Tenth. It would appear that a large amount of intensive rehearsal time went into the preparation for this release. 

 Programme notes are supplied by Wolfgang Sandner (translated by Bradford J. Robinson), and take a rather poetic tone in setting the scene for Weinberg's biography and his wider Soviet context. Perhaps the only 'dubious' item in the set is the inclusion of Kremer's reading of the solo violin sonata. Dedicated to the composer's father, Kremer divides the work into seven sections, each with a programmatic title. Perhaps Kremer can be forgiven for such a borderline-questionable reading, particularly since his performance speaks worlds more than such arbitrary labels ever could.


I opened this review with the grand assertion that this album sets a new high-water mark for the Weinberg revival. To clarify, I don't expect an overnight upsurge in his music. Rather, such a nuanced and controlled recording by musicians at the top of their game acts as a perfect showcase for Weinberg, one that aspiring future artists will have to refer back to. What's more, the excellent choice of programming serves as a brave introduction, making no bones about the sometimes difficult but always emotional character of the music. If anyone asks for a suitable recording to 'introduce' Weinberg, this has to be the go-to one for me from now on.
   With the American premiere of The Passenger, and Kremer's American tour playing Weinberg's music, I hope that this recording will go down a storm. Kremer and the Baltica are touring the states until Feb 8th, many concerts featuring one of the orchestral works from this release. If you have the opportunity, I urge you to go. I, meanwhile, will be patiently hoping that they will visit the UK.

Do visit the Kremerata Baltica website for details of their touring schedule - here

And I heartily recommend that you pre-order the album itself - (amazon.co.uk link)

1 comment:

  1. I was at the concert in Ann Arbor. It was fantastic; both the Violin Concertino and Symphony 10 were played wonderfully. It was my first time hearing the sympony (seems there's no recordings of it on Spotify), and I can't quite say I "got it". You're probably right that it requires multiple listens to appreciate. Definitely more approachable than some of his later symphonies, though.

    Here's the Amazon.com link for CD, for those of us in the US: http://www.amazon.com/Mieczyslaw-Weinberg-Gidon-Kremer/dp/B00GY6Z3LA