Thursday, 2 October 2014

Upcoming Performance in London (programme notes)

In my previous post, I included the following details about an upcoming Weinberg performance in the UK:

7:30, 1st November, London

The London Repertoire Orchestra, led by David Cutts, give the UK premiere of Weinberg's second Flute Concerto, with Liz Cutts as soloist. The programme also includes Beethoven's Coriolan Overture and Eighth Symphony. An extremely rare opportunity to hear this treasure from Weinberg's later works. (I've been closely involved with preparations for this concert, including providing a programme note - which I shall post on this blog nearer to the concert- and also providing a piano-reduction of the concerto for rehearsal purposes).

More details here and here

Following on from that, please find my programme-notes for the concert below, and a brief snapshot of the piano reduction that I transcribed for PeerMusic, Weinberg's publisher.

Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996) was a Polish-Jewish composer who enjoyed considerable success during his lifetime but fell into obscurity in his final years. Since his death, Weinberg’s music has undergone a revival and he is often regarded as the third great Soviet composer, after Shostakovich and Prokofiev. Weinberg was one of the most prolific composers of the twentieth-century with twenty-six symphonies, seventeen quartets, seven operas, thirty-one sonatas and dozens of song-cycles, film scores and even music for circus. His life-story places him as a unique figure in Soviet music. It is often difficult to decide which is more remarkable – his music, or his biography.
            Weinberg was born in Warsaw, 1919, to a musical Jewish family. He studied at the Warsaw Conservatory, and had a promising concert career in prospect. Weinberg fled after the Nazi invasion of 1939, leaving his family behind; he would never see them again ­- they perished in the Holocaust. He headed east to the Belo-Russian border of the USSR. He continued his studies in Minsk, but fled again to Tashkent with the Nazi invasion of 1941. Weinberg eventually settled in Moscow in 1943, having impressed Shostakovich with his orchestral scores. The two became firm friends – beginning a friendship that would go on to last for over thirty years.
            Having fled the advance of Nazism, Weinberg fell victim to another anti-Semitic regime, in the guise of Stalin’s post-war paranoia. Weinberg’s father-in-law, Solomon Mikhoels, was murdered on Stalin’s orders in 1948, and Weinberg himself was arrested in 1953. Shostakovich bravely petitioned to vouch for Weinberg’s innocence, but it was only Stalin’s death in March that freed him. Weinberg did not bear a grudge on his release, however. He continued to live in Moscow for the rest of life, forever esteeming the USSR as his savior from the Nazis.
Weinberg’s music attracted Soviet performers as illustrious as Emil Gilels, David Oistrakh, and Mstislav Rostropovich, but received little promotion outside of the country. In later life his music was often eclipsed in favour of the new Soviet avant-garde, in the guise of Schnittke, Pärt, and Gubaidulina. When combined with Weinberg’s own sense of quiet humility, this resulted in neglect over his final years. His death in 1996 went virtually unmarked. It is only in recent years that his music has undergone a considerable resurgence, particularly in the West, where recordings and performances have risen at an exponential rate.

Weinberg’s Second Flute Concerto, Op. 148, was written in 1987, among the last of his completed works. Along with his earlier First Flute Concerto, it was dedicated to the famous Soviet flautist Aleksander Korneyev. Reflecting a trend for ‘recycling’ across his later works, the first movement is an arrangement of that from his Second Violin Sonata, Op. 15 (1944). These ‘recyclings’ occurred in a period when performances of Weinberg’s music were rare, giving him plenty of time for salvaging material from his earliest works.
            The first movement betrays its wistful origins through a pastoral introduction. Combined with a scampering second theme, the movement continues on a trajectory that appears almost naïve, before an interruption by a darker central fugato section. The path to ‘home’ is hard-won after this, initiating a more complex struggle between the three thematic areas. A return of sorts is reached, though with darker snatches of the fugato theme.
            The Largo second movement resembles Weinberg’s later-style of writing, in contrast to the opening movement. The ‘darker’ tone is continued, now twisted to depict a desolate soundscape. A meandering solo line leads an orchestral rumination, heading towards a surging centre - a procedure similar to the first movement. Here, energy tails off, leaving only a brooding conclusion.
            A sense of innocence resurges in the finale, but now set in a dispirited vein. A ghost of a dance is set in motion between the soloist and lower strings, in a mechanistic pairing. After a resetting with discordant brass, Weinberg utilises a popular Soviet technique - inserting quotes into a concerto’s final movement (as he had done in his Trumpet Concerto, Op. 94). Quotes in the solo part here include Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits, and Bach’s ‘Badinerie’ from Suite No. 2, BWV 1067. The ‘mechanical’ theme returns, only to shift to a vacantly-placid ending – abandoning the issues raised over the course of the work.
The Second Flute Concerto appears to have gone unperformed during Weinberg’s lifetime, despite his efforts arranging the work for string orchestra, as Op. 148bis. The world premiere took place in Sweden, 2001, with Anders Jonhäll as soloist; tonight’s performance is the UK premiere.
Daniel Elphick, 2014.

The first page from the piano reduction of Weinberg's Second Flute Concerto, transcribed from the composer's manuscript. 

Listen to the Concerto here (website in Russian). 

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