Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Review: Vladimir Lande, Andrew Balio, St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Choir - Trumpet Concerto and Symphony No. 18

Naxos: 2014, Vladimir Lande (Conductor), Andrew Balio (Trumpet), St. Petersburg Chamber Choir, and St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra. Liner notes - Richard Whitehouse.

Naxos continue their admirable effort in releasing Weinberg's symphonies, with the Eighteenth, Op. 138, the second of the trilogy 'On the Threshold of War'. Also included is the ever-popular Trumpet Concerto, Op. 94, with Andrew Balio as soloist. Considering that the same ensemble's previous release of Weinberg's Twelfth Symphony was less than a success (see my review here), this latest CD goes some way to win back their reputation as interpreters of Weinberg's symphonic works.

Trumpet Concerto, Op. 94
I. Etudes
II. Episodes
III. Fanfares

Weinberg's trumpet concerto was dedicated to Soviet trumpeter Timofei Dokshitser, who premiered the work with Kirill Kondrashin and the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra in 1968. It's sense of playfulness and energy have both contributed to its enduring appeal to soloists and audiences alike (indeed, it has become a staple of Russian trumpet exams). With several commercial recordings available, this new reading provides a fresh contribution, with Andrew Balio giving an admirable performance in the cheeky solo part. 
   The opening scalic passages of the 'Etudes' movement almost sound like defying raspberries blown in the face of the orchestra, establishing the central dialogue of the concerto - the joke-like trumpet soloist versus the more austere voice of the orchestra (a dialogue perhaps familiar from Shostakovich's First Piano Concerto). The final movement of the concerto is particularly memorable, with its quotations from Mendelssohn, Rimsky-Korsakov and Stravinsky, providing a collage of notable Trumpet passages. The unity of the work inspired Shostakovich to dub the Trumpet Concerto, with only a hint of over-exaggeration, 'a Symphony for trumpet and orchestra'. 
   The recording here is warm, with a generally good balance. Any untidyness to be found in the strings is immediately offset by the charisma of Balio as soloist, if anything only emphasising the 'cheeky' side to the trumpet part.

Symphony No. 18, Op. 138, 'War - there is no word more cruel'
I. Adagio - Allegro
II. 'He was buried in the Earth'
III. 'My dear little berry, you do not know the pain that is in my heart'
IV. 'War - there is no word more cruel'
Weinberg's symphonic trilogy 'On the Threshold of War' was one of the great achievements of his later career, though its presence on the concert platform has been notably absent since its premiere performances. With the efforts of the Neos label and now Naxos, the whole trilogy is widely available, and a remarkable work it proves to be. 
   Lande and the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra have released Weinberg's Nineteenth Symphony, the concluding part of the trilogy. My review of that purely orchestral work can be found here. In this excellent reading, Lande proves that the Eighteenth is really the key central section of this great work. Any of the unstability present in their previous reading of the Twelfth symphony is thankfully absent. 
   The warm opening of the first movement sets the tone - remarkably warm and moving, becoming all the more powerful with the brass entry. This opening movement acts as an overture to the work, with the really moving passages present in the choral work, with the St. Petersburg Chamber Choir giving an excellent performance - try the opening of the second movement, 'He was buried in the Earth' and see what I mean. The third movement is the most moving for me, 'My dear little berry', sung by female voices. The final movement gives a solemn epilogue, to words by Aleksandr Tvardovsky:
War - there is no word more cruel. 
War - there is no word more sad. 
War - there is no word more holy. 
In the sorrow and the glory of these years. 
There is and there could not be 
Any other word on our lips.
This recording gives an excellent reading of Weinberg's ultimately optimistic message - that the pains of war do nothing to extinguish the beauty of human spirit. An excellent addition here (compared to the Naxos recording of Weinberg's Eighth Symphony) is the inclusion of translations for the sung texts. Combined with Mr. Whitehouse's liner notes, a good background is given to fully understand the work. In my opinion, the quality of this release balances out any quibbles to be found in their previous Weinberg disc. Heartily recommended, principally for the programming of Weinberg's Eighteenth.

Recommended other listening:
There are several excellent recordings of the Trumpet Concerto widely available, so I will only link to one available to listen to on youtube:

This is the Neos label release, to be found to buy on Amazon - link.

For another recording of the Eighteenth Symphony, there is the Olympia recording with the forces that premiered the work, the USSR Radio Symphony Orchestra, with Vladimir Fedoseyev conducting (though this CD is now something of a collector's item).

Otherwise, the following two releases complete the symphonic trilogy and are available for purchase:

Neos - Weinberg Symphony No. 17, Weiner Symphoniker, Vladimir Fedoseyev - Link

Naxos (Lande & St. Petersburg State Orchestra) - Symphony No. 19 - Link

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