Friday 12 December 2014

New Article - 'Weinberg, Shostakovich, and the influence of "Anxiety"'

Dear readers -

It gives me great pleasure to announce the publication of my first academic article, 'Weinberg, Shostakovich, and the influence of Anxiety'. It appears in the Winter issue of The Musical Times, alongside several esteemed authors from Musicology, including Barry Cooper, Arnold Whittall, and Leo Black. Details for ordering copies can be found on the Musical Times website - here.

The article explores instances of mutual influence in the string quartets of Weinberg and of Shostakovich. While Shostakovich's influence on Weinberg is apparent on first listen, the reverse process is more subtle - and is particularly apparent in some of Shostakovich's earlier quartets. After several examples, the case of Weinberg and Shostakovich is explored in the context of theories of influence itself - especially Harold Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence. I conclude that Weinberg and Shostakovich's relationship of mutual influence is a rather unique one in the history of music.

This publication is the first extended article on Weinberg to appear in an English-language, non-specialised journal. As such, I hope that it can provide an impetus for many further discussions of Weinberg's music in academic print.

Tuesday 2 December 2014

December update

Here's a list of upcoming recordings, events, and other Weinberg-related news for December 2014.


Chandos - Weinberg Chamber Symphonies No. 3 & 4
Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra, Thord Svedlund

Continuing their long association with Weinberg's music, the Chandos label are bringing out a new disc in collaboration with conductor Thord Svedlund. Like the last few discs in the series, this one will be released on a SACD high-quality disc (which will also play in standard CD players). This is a eagerly-anticipated album, if the previous discs are anything to go by. Coming January 2015 - see this link for further details. 

Grand Piano - Weinberg, complete piano works
Allison Brewster Franzetti

Franzetti's four volume series of Weinberg's complete works for solo piano is to be brought together into this attractively packaged set, scheduled to be released in January 2015. The series represents premiere recordings of many of these works, and also provides refreshingly new interpretations on several pieces that have become over-familiar. More details here. (Perhaps a perfect partnering with the Quatuor Danel's boxset of Weinberg's complete String Quartets? A perfect present this festive season! - details here).


Following on from my November post, which included details for the upcoming Chicago Lyric Opera production of Weinberg's The Passenger (see here) - the company has announced details for a festival themed around the opera and Weinberg's music. The series is called 'Memory and Reckoning' and full details can be found here
   Highlights of the series include various talks and discussions on The Passenger and Weinberg's life and music, as well as the premiere of a newly-commissioned opera The Property, by Wlad Marhulets, libretto by Stephanie Fleischmann. Described as a 'klezmer opera', The Property is based on a graphic novel by Rutu Modan, and explores similar themes to those opened by Weinberg in The Passenger. Further details of The Property can be found here.
   The series also includes several concerts, of both orchestral and chamber music by Weinberg. Highlights include:
29 January 2015 - Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes, Trumpet Concerto
31 January 2015 - Symphony No. 18
12 February 2015 - Quartet No. 4
15 February 2015 - Piano Quintet
1 March 2015 - String Trio, Trio for flute, viola, and harp
Each of these concerts is listed at generously cheap ticket prices ($4 for a student ticket!?), so any Chicago-based Weinbergians are in for a real treat. And then, of course, there is The Passenger itself, alongside an exhibition at the Lyric Opera on Weinberg and the opera. Plenty to see!


Symphony No. 18 - Vladimir Lande and the St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra.

Piano Sonata No. 5, Murray McLachlan

My own work

I have an article due out in the Winter issue of the Musical Times - 'Weinberg, Shostakovich, and the Influence of Anxiety'. This will be the first ever English-language article in a non-specialist publication dedicated to Weinberg's music. I'll be sure to post links and details on here as soon as it is available. 

I am also grateful to have been invited to speak at the Royal Musical Association Student Research Conference in Bristol, January 2015, with a paper on psychoanalysis and socialist-realism. The same paper will be previewed in Manchester, on Thursday 11 December, Martin Harris centre, room G16, 16:15. Further details to follow.

Friday 21 November 2014

Soviet-era Weinberg scores

Weinberg's music was widely performed during his lifetime, largely inside in the Soviet Union. Even more of it was published - below are some scans from three scores in my possession, all dating from the Soviet era. I'm particularly keen to hear from anyone who owns any other Soviet Weinberg scores.

First Symphony, Op. 10, (Moscow: Soviet Kompozitor, 1972)

Weinberg First Symphony, cover.

Monday 17 November 2014

November Update

Here is a run-down of the latest news in Weinberg-related circles, including concerts, releases, and other paraphernalia.

Upcoming Concerts
First of all, there are two upcoming productions of Weinberg's Opera The Passenger in the United States.

The first is presented by the Lyric Opera of Chicago, taking place February 24 -March 15, 2015. This is a presentation of the David Pountney production, first seen at the Bregenz Festival in 2010. The same production received its US premiere in January of this year, by Houston Grand Opera, before appearing at the Park Avenue Armory as part of the Lincoln  Festival in July.

The Lyric Opera of Chicago will be featuring an exhibition on Weinberg's life and The Passenger, including photographs and written description, as well as documenting the development of Pountney's production. They have also uploaded the following video of a seminar and panel discussion on Weinberg's opera:

For further information and ticket details, follow this link to the Lyric Opera's page for The Passenger: link.

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Weinberg Memorabilia

A good friend of mine, based in Moscow, found some old programmes of Weinberg concerts in the drawers of his mother's house. He very kindly agreed to send scans to me, and I was delighted with the results.

Here are two images, from a programme of the advance previews before the premiere of Weinberg's last opera The Idiot.

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

Thursday 11 September 2014

September Update

I hope that all my readers have had a pleasant summer - here's my round-up of Weinberg-related news for the month of September.

Upcoming Concerts

13:10, 9th October, Manchester

Weinberg expert Michelle Assay performs alongside bass-baritone Frédéric Albou in a programme of Russian song settings to Shakespeare texts. The programme includes Shostakovich, Sviridov, Kabalevsky, and Weinberg (a rare chance to hear his Op. 33 song cycle 'Shakespeare Sonnets').

More details here


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

Friday 22 August 2014

Weinberg depicted in Shostakovich biopic

I recently read about a Russian-language film, entitled 'Скрипка Ротшильда' - 'Rothschild's Violin'. Released in 1996, the Edgardo Cozarinsky film is based around Shostakovich's completion of Fleischman's opera 'Rothschild's Violin'. Since the opera itself last only 40 minutes, the filmmaker pads the rest of the film with biography of Shostakovich and Fleischman, how Fleischman was a Jewish pupil of Shostakovich's, who died in combat in WWII. Shostakovich completed the opera, which was subsequently disapproved of by official authorities. 

In this clip, from the epilogue at the end of the film, the year is 1948. Shostakovich has received his warning from the authorities, who are now following him around Moscow. He meets Weinberg, and they join a food queue in order to discuss their latest affairs without the government agents listening in.

Friday 15 August 2014

Rare Weinberg photos

Here are a few photographs of Weinberg, all of them found from various sources online. I have reproduced any information included with the photos - but many of them are a mystery. I welcome any input from readers.

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Review: Sinfoniettas and Seventh Symphony, Svetlanov & Barshai

The Melodiya label is legendary in Russian circles. This is hardly surprising. From their founding in 1964, up until the fall of the Soviet Union, they held the monopoly on recordings in Russia. They still have a formidable back catalogue, in addition to a huge number of archive recordings slowly being released. (See my post on the Melodiya online store here). This gem of a CD is one such archive recording, released in this package for the first time. 

In addition to it being a handsome CD design, the quality of the recordings is good, considering that all three works were recorded in the 1960s. For the most part, this disc is useful to the Weinberg-collector as an easily-sourced taste of Orchestral recordings from the Soviet era. There are several other features that mark it as distinct, but the majority of it is passable, compared to several other modern recordings. 

The Music
The disc opens with Weinberg's two Sinfoniettas, Op. 41, and Op. 74. The first was a great critical success for Weinberg, one of his first pieces to attract wider praise. (In the 1948 discussions of the Soviet Composer's Union, this piece was singled out for praise as 'an example of reorietation' - Weinberg's use of Jewish themes was held aloft as an excellent response to previous criticism of  flirtations with Modernism in his music). Try the fourth movement, 'Giocoso Vivace' as a taster, with its splendid Jewish mode dance-like opening. 
  The Second Sinfonietta couldn't be more different, with a noticeably more sombre tone. In many ways, it can be regarded as an actual symphony, though with scoring for chamber orchestra. The differences between the two Sinfoniettas demonstrate the creeping stylistic shifts present during Weinberg's music over this time.
  The disc concludes with Weinberg's Seventh Symphony, a popular choice, given the numerous recordings released in recent years. The work is notable for featuring a prominent Harpsichord solo part, bordering on the demands of a concerto. Such an instrumentation may suggest several trends of neo-classical composition, but there is little to be found here. The Symphony still retains Weinberg's distinctive symphonic voice, but with more than a few hints of concerto textures (with oblique references to 'Concerto Grosso' form in the first movement). 

The Recording
As mentioned above, the quality of the recording is generally excellent. If other Soviet recordings of the same era are anything to go by, this disc has received more than a little post-production to touch it up, but it is all the stronger for doing so. Modern Western audiences can enjoy the distinctive sound of Soviet-era orchestras. 

This last point marks out this disc as noteworthy to the Weinberg collector: the Sinfonietta No. 2 and Seventh Symphony are here performed by the forces that premiered them - the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Rudolf Barshai. The Harpsichord soloist in the Seventh Symphony is not named in the liner notes - at the premiere performance in 1964, Andrei Volkonsky took the role. Volkonsky would go on to become notorious as a disruptive force of experimental composition, in addition to his work on historically-informed performances in the USSR. 

Melodiya page, with more info link link 
iTunes link

P.S. - Curiously, the CD bears the marking '16+', with no clarification (the same warning is printed on the disc itself). The works featured are entirely instrumental, and the liner notes don't refer to any risqué material, either social or political. As such, the age-restricted guidance is puzzling. If any readers could shed any further light on the matter, I would be most grateful.

PSS. *Edit* such age warnings are apparently arbitrarily designated by certain record labels in Russia, with no guiding policy. So, long story short, the age-rating is not there because of some certain guidelines. Thanks to the commentator who helped with this matter.

Monday 14 July 2014

'The Passenger' - Reviews round-up

The Lincoln Center production of The Passenger in New York has now been and gone. The production courted controversy before opening night - see my article here.

The reviews that have been posted online are a mixed bunch, many finding the work so-so, but the production excellent. This post presents a selection, with summaries and links for further reading.

Elizabeth Frayer & Shawn E Milnes, 'Schleppy Nabuccos' Blog, online link
Director David Pountney’s staging was terrific...Weinberg’s music is evocative... I greatly enjoyed the varied composition in The Passenger. (Frayer)
I found it too long as the action lost me at several points and I found my mind wandering...the farther away we venture from the initial presented perspective of Liese’s first person account of her story to her husband, and the longer we stay away from it, the greater the risk of breaking the audience's connection to the story. (Milne). 

George Greller, New York Classical Review - link
 If anything might refute Theodor Adorno's statement that "to write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric"[sic], it would be Mieczysław Weinberg's opera The Passenger... Just as one begins to think that Weinberg is a superior craftsman but without first-rate brilliance, the composer produces some breathtaking melodic and structural invention.

Anthony Tommasini, New York Times - link
 The strongest quality of The Passenger... is the visceral way the work exposes the tension between the present and the past of its two main characters. The hero of the evening and, truly, of the opera, was Ms. Posmysz, whose novel was drawn from her own experiences at Auschwitz. Now 90, she received a prolonged ovation, along with the cast, the production team and Mr. Summers.

David Patrick Stearns, Operavore blog, WQXR - link
Mieczyslaw Weinberg's 1968 opera The Passenger is not the great, cathartic Holocaust opera that we've been waiting for. One beautiful voice after another... emerged only periodically amid Weinberg's unmelodic vocal lines. More curious, the less-than-singable lines often lack dramatic eloquence, despite the savvy efforts of Michelle Breedt as the Auschwitz overseer Liese and James Maddalena as the ship's spectral steward. So instrumentally oriented is the score that its best scene isn't vocal at all: Defying orders to play a Nazi-favored waltz, a Jewish violinist force feeds the authorities Bach's famous unaccompanied Chaconne.
Justin Davidson, - link
The Passenger has been resurrected in the guise of a historical triumph — a tale that must be told, a score that must be heard. But it remains troubling, an earnest, frequently beautiful, and fitfully powerful drama about the relationship between prisoner and guard. Its many splendid moments aestheticize Auschwitz; its weaker ones fall back on brutal cliché...Unwilling to write music as ugly as the situation and unable to plumb the complexities of the two women’s mutual dependency and hate, he falls back on a series of manipulative setpieces. But the opera’s emotional climax belongs not to either of the protagonists, but to Katya, a young partisan superbly sung by Kelly Kaduce, who brings her hardened barracks mates to tears with a plaintive Russian folk song. This may have been Weinberg’s attempt to ingratiate himself with Soviet authorities, rather than an integral part of the story, but it works its magic on New York audiences, too.
Paul J. Pelkonen, Superconductor blog - link
Despite the questionable acoustic placement of the musicians, Weinberg's massive score was eclipsed by  the white-hot intensity of the story and the searing performances of the two female leads... the sweet vocal ensembles are among the opera's best moments, recalling Weinberg's expertise as a writer of string quartets. These caged angels were all established as distinct personalities, working together against their Nazi oppressors and showing great personal courage as they passed notes, plucked flowers, celebrated Marta's birthday and struggled to survive. Most of them didn't.
Martin Bernheimer, Financial Times - link
It is difficult not to be moved by Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s The Passenger... For at least one observer, it promised more than it could deliver... His brashly idealistic creation, which might have benefited from the intervention of a tough editor, harbours odd ingredients: Straussian passion, Brittenesque reflection, modernist dissonance and folksy-jazzy-popsy decoration... The acoustic limitations of the Armory drill hall required generous amplification, which made everyone sound heroic beyond the norm. A muted ovation at the end of three long hours of concerted misery suggested relief as much as approbation.

Please feel free to link more reviews/articles in the comments box below - D.E. 

Just as one begins to think that Weinberg is a superior craftsman but without first-rate brilliance, the composer produces some breathtaking melodic and structural invention.

Friday 11 July 2014

Weinberg's final resting place

Mieczyslaw Weinberg, Vainberg, Grave, Cemetery,
The Grave of Mieczysław Weinberg, with Nadezhda Grinchar (Weinberg's Mother-in-Law), 49, Domodedovo Cemetery.

In a quiet cemetery outside of Moscow lies Weinberg's final resting place in a Russian Orthodox grave, in accordance with his final wishes. The plot is also the resting place of Nadezhda Grinchar, mother of Olga Rakhalskaya, Weinberg's second wife.

The inscription quotes the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 11, Verse 25:

'He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live'.

Credit for the photograph: link.

Thursday 3 July 2014

Wading in...

A lot of my writing on Weinberg's opera The Passenger has focused on critical reception, including my blog-article here and my colloquium article 'Weinberg and The Passenger', to be found on my page here. Over the years that I have spent researching Weinberg's life and music, I have paid particular attention to the reception of The Passenger, being arguably his best, and (potentially) most controversial work. The Russian premiere in 2006 heralded Weinberg as 'a new direction for Russian opera', while David Pountney's Bregenz production in 2010 drew rave reviews across the board (the London reception, however, was noticeably mixed). Eyebrows were raised at the question of 'appropriateness' of the material, while others were quick to react to some author's labelling of the work as a 'masterpiece'.
   The American premiere in Houston in January of this year attracted a similar mix of reactions, though predominantly more positive. Thursday 10th July sees the New York premiere, at Park Avenue Armory. Before the opera has even opened, it appears to have divided critics, both freelance and online commentators. Some of this writing begins with an outright angry tone before moving to vitriol, and I couldn't avoid throwing my two cents into the debate (hence my choice of title, 'Wading in...').

The initial reactions appear to be based upon Park Avenue Armory's publicity for the opera, in particular, the loaded phrase 'Holocaust opera' (a phrase itself lifted from out of John Allison's 2011 review for the Daily Telegraph, link). The Park Avenue Armory landing page for the production grandly sells the 'landmark work' link, while their assistant artistic director Mena Mark Hanna produced an enthusiastic programme note, released on Huffington Post:  (full link here)
'Mieczysław Weinberg's The Passenger... stands apart in its bold attempt to reenact the savagery of World War II on the musical stage. The Polish composer and his Russian librettist, Alexander Medvedev, produced an opera that not only seeks to write poetry after Auschwitz, but also attempts to confront the grotesque terror head-on. This opera is unlike any other work.'
Against this background of enthusiastic plugging for an upcoming production, I stumbled across the following article by Allan M. Jalon, writing for Tablet magazine, with the headline 'Lincoln Center presents an opera without Jews, set in Auschwitz' (full link). Jalon takes issue with the 'Holocaust opera' phrase used in various parts of the production's promotion materials to launch a thorough attack against the opera and its creators. Jalon's argument is set out in the opening paragraph:
'Beyond a few lines given to a Jewish character, there’s no explicit Jewish presence in this concentration camp. Seeing the work, it’s hard to believe: An opera set in the killing factory known for subtracting Jews from the world, and it subtracts Jews.'
Jalon, of course, is right to point this out. And, for Western audiences unfamiliar with the conditions of Soviet life, this must come as a shock. All credit to Jalon, he has thoroughly researched the work, and is right to point out the near-minimal representation of the Jewish people in The Passenger. Jalon raises the wide-reaching questions, ones that The Passenger cannot answer on its own:
'Can art that excises the full picture of the Nazis’ main group of victims be respected as a work of responsible witness? Are there no limits to art’s freedom to navigate a subjective path through its subject, when that subject is documented history?'
I strongly advise my readers to read Jalon's article in its entirety, for it presents a consistently adverse reaction to the opera, however well-researched it may be. Where I take strong issue is on two points: among Jalon's research, he interviewed Zofia Posmysz, author of the original book of The Passenger. Posmysz is now 91. Jalon's issue with the lack of Jewish representation of the novel is unleashed upon her during this interview:

Both the interviewer for OSTEUROPA and I asked Posmysz about the general absence of Jews in the various versions of her Aufseherin Franz-Marta-Tadeusz story. “In your story, Jews just aren’t there,” the German interviewer says pointedly. He or she—I couldn’t find a byline—notes the scene with the Jewish baby in the barracks but presses about why “both protagonists in the camp are stereotypical Poles: Tadeusz and Marta.”
The characters in the novel, she added in the German interview, were based on “the people whom I was closest to in the camp. I was very closely bound to Marta and Tadeusz. That was my experience... Auschwitz was a horrible experience for mankind. I don’t deny that the Jews were treated the worst, but many other people were sent to the gas chambers. Think of the Romani.”
In Posmysz’s email to me, she stresses that “the only thing I have the right to speak of” was the women’s camp, adding: “From the perspective of a prisoner, Auschwitz was limited to the barracks, the work brigade, to a cell in a bunker. People lived in small groups, going back and forth between barracks was unsafe.” Writing her novel, she says, she “presented the environment I knew best.”
Following this cornering by interview, Jalon goes on to mention Prof. Fanning's work on Weinberg's biography, detailing Weinberg's religious beliefs (or lack thereof) which, when combined with his attack on the non-Jewish perspective of The Passenger amounts to a crude attack on Weinberg himself:
'Fanning talks at length about the amount of music Weinberg wrote with Jewish content: symphonies and vocal work. After The Passenger, he made an opera based on “Mazel Tov,” a comic tale by Sholem Aleichem. It finally premiered in 1983. He apparently gave no indication of a commitment to Judaism as a faith, engaged as he was with Jewish culture. Meanwhile, he converted to the Russian Orthodox faith of his second wife shortly before he died, at 76, in 1996, though Fanning says his reason for his conversion remains unclear.'
 Jalon's biting article prompted me to wade into the murky territory of online commenting on the article. I reproduce my response here in full:
I worry that your article is a 'simple response' to Weinberg's opera. The Passenger's success lies in its subtlety. The opera does not need to overstate the almost exclusively Jewish-targeted nature of the Holocaust; that is a fact of history. As a work of stage-drama, literal depiction of atrocities is at best inappropriate, and at worst, offensive. Your article appears to be demanding that The Passenger would only be successful if it focused on explicitly depicting Jewish-directed Nazi cruelty, rather than the more subtle multicultural representation seen in the opera.
It is true that The Passenger does not portray an exclusively Jewish experience; there are many circumstances around its creation that influenced this fact. As you rightly pointed out, Posmysz's background as a Catholic informed the viewpoint that she imparted in her book (could she have done anything but that, a narrative on her own experiences?). Your rather subtle attack on Weinberg's absence of practicing faith risks becoming a personal swipe on the composer himself, rather than the opera. Weinberg's situation in the Soviet Union strongly influenced any chance of portraying a Jewish experience. Many of his works do reflect his Jewish heritage, but they only do so explicitly into the late 1970s and after. Before then, Weinberg made occasional use of Jewish melodies and some Jewish texts (texts which were often altered afterwards, increasing the chances of publication in the antisemitic Soviet state).
Weinberg had experienced Soviet antisemitism first-hand, having been arrested in 1953, and having had his Father-in-Law (Solomon Mikhoels) murdered by Stalin in 1948. Weinberg had witnessed other composers, such as Alexander Weprik, being arrested on charges of Jewish nationalism and being imprisoned for years - Weinberg was lucky to have gotten away with only a few months imprisonment. The chances of being sent to the Gulag in the late 1960s when Weinberg was writing The Passenger were still relatively high. It is understandable that he downplayed an exclusively Jewish identity - if not to avoid suspicion, but also to increase the chances of it being performed.
The multi-cultural viewpoint expressed through the opera represents the multi-national team that produced it. Weinberg alone held strong associations with Jewish, Polish and Russian identities. The fact Weinberg had lost his close family to the Holocaust is a rather crucial point of his biography, contributing to the emotional power of The Passenger - a fact that you only casually mention until the end of your article. It stands to reason that if Weinberg had portrayed a strongly Jewish viewpoint in the opera, he would have been effectively portraying the deaths of his family on stage. By avoiding this, and opting for a more subtle multinational perspective is, in my opinion, no flaw whatsoever. 

Of course, Jalon's thoughts were based on well-documented research, and his article is commendable on this point. However, monitoring the subsequent comments, other reader's thoughts on Jalon's article and The Passenger proved shocking. I shall quote these online comments below (though I will not credit their authors).
'...taking jews out of the production is just a big lie. The many Holocaust deniers in the world will use this as proof that Jews were not special victims of Nazi germany [sic].'
A rather amazing assumption, that Holocaust deniers would rely on a fictional work to get their 'proof'. While Holocaust denial is obviously an extremely serious issue, some of the rhetoric around the debate has lurched into fear of the denial itself in an effort to limit antisemitism in those territories at the frontline of an ongoing battle (in a very real sense). This stance echoes the Met's recent decision on John Adams' The Death of Klinghoffer (where a broadcast was abandoned, on the grounds that the opera, while judged not to be antisemitic, could 'encourage' antisemitism elsewhere - see link here). In the 'Comments' box at the end of Jalon's article, one member of the public wrote:
'The opera is a lie and should be protested and boycotted. it attempts to supplant the tragedy of european Jews and make believe that it was chiefly gentiles that were the victims. this is a lie.'
Another gave the same thoughts in a slightly more eloquent summing up:
'Making the opera multinational would not have been a flaw - others suffered at the hands of the Nazis as well - but limiting the portrayal of the Jewish experience to one character is a huge flaw. Perhaps Mieczyslaw Weinberg was comfortable with this portrayal at the time and in the place in which he lived but to describe this as a Holocaust opera definitely seems to be a misrepresentation. Removing or minimizing the uniquely Jewish experience of the Holocaust is just one form of Holocaust denial.' 
These are by far the most extreme reactions to The Passenger so far; accusations of antisemitism and even Holocaust denial. I anticipate that my responses to such reactions will stimulate lively debate.


For any readers interested, I shall be speaking at the conference 'Continuities and Ruptures: Artistic Responses to Jewish Migration, Internment and Exile in the Long Twentieth Century', on Tuesday 8 July, with a paper titled 'Commemorating the Past: Weinberg's experience as a Jewish migrant in the USSR' (Conference programme link). The full conference will be streamed for the general public to watch online (I shall provide a link soon), and hopefully to be watched back again the future. My talk will be at 9:30am (British time). I hope that several of the opinions that I have outlined above will start a stimulating discussion.

'The Passenger', in David Pountney's production at the Bregenz festival, 2010.


Tuesday 27 May 2014

'The greatest composer you've (probably) never heard of'

The popular BBC Radio 3 programme 'Composer of the week', presented by Donald Macleod, will be focusing entirely on Weinberg next week (starting 02/06/14). Weinberg was chosen by an open listener poll, with audiences invited to suggest their favourite 'obscure' composer. Apparently, Weinberg's name came out on top, leading to the week's broadcasts title of 'The greatest composer you've (probably) never heard of'. This will see five hour-length episodes, dedicated to Weinberg's life and works, featuring the broadcaster and Weinberg-enthusiast, Martin Anderson. More from the BBC's website:

'Over the past seven decades, Composer of the Week has delved into just about every major composer in classical music, and plenty of less well-known ones too. As the programme reached its 70th birthday last year, Donald Macleod challenged listeners to come up with the name of a deserving composer who had never previously been featured. Suggestions flooded in, over four-and-a-half-thousand of them, and of these, more than 20 made the case for an obscure Soviet composer of Polish-Jewish origin, Mieczyslaw Weinberg. Weinberg's music is well represented on CD, and as Donald heard more and more of it, his astonishment that he hadn't come across it before grew commensurately. So all this week, Donald Macleod explores the life and work of Mieczyslaw Weinberg, in the company of writer, broadcaster and champion of unjustly neglected composers, Martin Anderson.'

Find a link to the first page on the BBC website here. All five episodes of the series will be available to listen again on the BBC iPlayer website.

Thursday 22 May 2014

Raskatov on Weinberg

An interview has been published online, with Gavin Dixon talking to acclaimed Russian composer Alexander Raskatov (who, as you may know, was a close friend to Weinberg in his later years). Over the course of their conversation, they discuss Raskatov's recent works programmed at the Drogheda Festival. Of particular interest to readers of this blog, they begin to discuss Raskatov's work Monk's Music, which is dedicated to Weinberg. Raskatov recalls his close friendship with Weinberg, and then begins a poignant recollection of Weinberg's final years.

(From the website, link below).

[Raskatov:] We were friends. When I was young, from around 1980, I often visited Weinberg. He invited me. He played me his music, I played him mine. We talked a lot. It was a fantastic time, and I thought it would never end. He played an important role because he always supported my music in all the Moscow institutions, the Union of Composers, the Ministry of Culture and so on. He was old school, full of old traditions. He had played four hands with Shostakovich, and he told me many things about his friendship with Shostakovich. But he was an extremely modest man. I came to him with my early Viola Concerto, which I had dedicated to him – I’d written the dedication in very grand, self-important language; I was young. I played it for him and he was very touched. He said: ‘you know Sasha this is the third composition which is dedicated to me’ I asked what the first two were, he said: ‘the Tenth Quartet of Dmitri Dmitriyevich [Shostakovich] and then the Cello Sonata of Boris Tchaikovsky; and now you are the third one.’ Anyway, during the 80s we met dozens of times. I helped him to organise the recording of his opera Portrait. We always had a lot of things to discuss.
[GD:] Listening to Raskatov talk about Weinberg’s final years, it’s clear his neglect was keenly felt.
[Raskatov:] When I left Russia, my departure was probably provoked by his illness. In 1993 I came to his house. He was very, very ill – he was dying really in poverty. He wasn’t able to buy important medicines for his treatment. It all cost money, and our Union of Composers, our government was unable to help him. I spoke to Elena Vassilieva about this composer who was so ill, and she sent some money. She told me to just give it, from one French singer to a composer, it might help a little bit. And I came to him and I told him I had some money for him. And he asked: ‘Sasha, is it your money?’ I said: ‘No, it is not mine, just take it.’ And he cried. When I saw this I thought, if this composer, who wrote so many symphonies, quartets, and operas, is in such a helpless situation, and the country cannot do anything for him, what can there be here for us younger composers? So it was something very painful that I felt. He never knew it, but that was a turning point for me. It showed me the real situation of music in the 1990s. I left and soon after he died. I received a letter from his wife. I regret very much that I left without saying adieu. And I felt that I was obliged to somehow commemorate his existence, to dedicate something to him. And as he was a great master of string quartets I decided this genre would be the best for his memory.
Read the full interview at the following link: Gavin Dixon on

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

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Britten and Weinberg

The recent programming on a Challenge records disc combined Weinberg's Violin Concerto alongside that of Benjamin Britten. As well as being an excellent album (see my review here), the combination of Weinberg and Britten proved a well-suited duo. There are numerous reasons for this, the most obvious also being the most simple: Britten's influence can often be heard in Weinberg's music, particularly in his Operas.

Britten and Shostakovich, 1966.

 The close friendship between Britten and Shostakovich is well known. Britten was one of the few people to stand up for Shostakovich's opera 'Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk' after its British premiere in 1936. Shostakovich was so impressed with Britten's War Reqiuem that he held it up as an example to his composition students. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the two composers visited each other. Britten and Peter Pears stayed with Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya for New Year's, 1966. Over the course of their stay, they often saw Shostakovich and his wife Irina. Peter Pears wrote of the visit in his diary:

25th December, 1966
Christmas dinner at Slava's [i.e. - Rostropovich's]... Dmitri and Irena Shostakovich were there, punctual as always... Shostakovich in good form, talkative, nervous, Irena gentle, quiet, a marvellous foil for him.
1st January, 1967
 We were summoned for 10:00 pm at Dmitri's...We had a quick nip of vodka came a meal around a long table groaning with drink and eats, and presents...a score of Dmitri's Stepan Razin for Ben, and a record of the same for me.
The Shostakovich's visited Britten at home in Aldeburgh in 1972, Shostakovich particularly excited to see the sketches for Death in Venice. Shostakovich wrote that had it not been for the language barrier that existed between himself and Britten, the two could have become close friends.

The musical parallels are close, with both composers adapting twelve-note rows into their music at around the same time, and each generously quoting the other's music. Notably - see Shostakovich's Fourteenth Symphony for the strong influence from Britten. With such a strong bond between the two composers, it was natural for Weinberg to be strongly familiar with Britten's music.

Admittedly, there isn't a scrap of recorded evidence to link the two. But it is certainly tempting to suggest that Weinberg would have met Britten during his stays in Moscow. We can certainly say that Weinberg and Shostakovich discussed Britten's music at length, and Weinberg's familiarity with Britten's work is evinced by his collection of scores and records. Shostakovich and Weinberg conversed about music on an almost daily basis. It is certainly tantalising to suggest that Shostakovich could have mentioned Weinberg's name to Britten.

Weinberg's Requiem, Op. 96, owes a large amount to Britten's War Reqiuem, a work that Shostakovich loved (according to Yevtushenko, author of 'Babi Yar', a poem that Shostakovich used in his Thirteenth Symphony, Shostakovich listened to Britten's War Reqiuem on repeat, crying all the way through).

An immediately noticeable similarity between the two works is the use of boy's voices to depict innocence. In Britten's case, the boy's choir sing texts by war poet Wilfred Owen interspersed between the text of the requiem mass. Weinberg's Requiem uses a selection of poetry from authors including Garcia Lorca and Mikhael Dudkin, in a multi-national array that also echoes Britten's War Requiem. They differ in their complexity, however, as Weinberg's work is beyond the grasp of amateur ensembles. Partly as a result of this, Weinberg's Requiem was not performed until 2009, in Liverpool. Meanwhile, Britten's War Reqiuem was famously commissioned for the reopening of Coventry Cathedral, and was premiered to international acclaim in 1962, four years before Weinberg began writing his work. 

It is in Weinberg's operas that the Britten influence becomes more telling. David Nice has rightly pointed out that 'by the late 1960s, when Weinberg completed The Passenger, one great composer of Russian operas, Sergei Prokofiev, was long dead, and the other, Shostakovich, had produced nothing completely new for the operatic stage in decades'. As such, Britten was the obvious leader in opera on the world stage at that time.

Weinberg waited until relatively late in his career before turning to opera. His first opera, The Passenger, is arguably is masterpiece (and you can read more about it in my article here), set in Auschwitz, in a triumph of humanist drama. Throughout, there are noticeable Britten-like passages, often built around chains of thirds. For instance, there is the following passage in The Passenger:

Strikingly reminiscent of the first sea interlude in Britten's Peter Grimes:

The similarities continue throughout Weinberg's other operas. For instance, there is Weinberg's use of folk songs and musical quotation, effortlessly woven into the music to emphasise aspects of the drama - a technique used extensively in Britten's operas. Perhaps the most notable of these is the Lamplighter's song in The Portrait - replete with characteristic Weinbergian fourths. The frequent use of Celesta in The Passenger also recalls Peter Grimes, and Weinberg's more extended use of percussion in The Passenger even anticipates Britten's Death in Venice.

To conclude, Britten's influence is easy to identify in Weinberg's music, as well as on a more abstract level, as they both shared similar humanistic ideals - in Britten's case, extending to his decision to be a conscientious objector during WWII. The question of how Weinberg came to know Britten's works is easily addressed when Britten's friendship with Shostakovich is taken into account, and the prescence of Britten's style in Weinberg's operas seems glaringly obvious if we consider that he was a world-leader on the operatic stage at that time (though, importantly, Weinberg would not have heard a Britten opera in concert in the Soviet Union during this time; his knowledge came through scores and recordings). Weinberg's debt to Britten is a fascinating trait - I intend to further this introductory article with a more thorough examination of Weinberg's operas, including The Portrait and The Idiot.

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Review: Linus Roth - Britten and Weinberg Concertos

Challenge Classics CC72627, Violin Concertos by Benjamin Britten and Mieczysław Weinberg, Linus Roth (soloist), with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, conducted by Mihkel Kütson. Liner notes by Jens F. Laurson. 

Another admirable release by the violinist Linus Roth, building on the foundation laid by his previous 3-disc album with the pianist José Gallardo - see my review here. Roth's playing is faultless throughout, and the detractingly cold sound from the previous recording is absent here, with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin providing a lush cushion for Roth's soloistic antics. The release also has the selling point of being a SACD disc, should you have suitable equipment to enjoy it (which I don't; being a humble student, such tech is well out of my price range).

The disc features the excellent programming of combining Britten and Weinberg; while the close connections between Britten and Shostakovich have often been noted, the influence on Weinberg is an underexplored topic itself. Keep your eyes posted over the next few weeks, I have a blog-post/article in the works on this very topic. 

I must profess that the Britten violin concerto, Op. 15, is not a work that I am familiar with. Indeed, aside from his stage works and music for choir, I am admittedly scant on recordings of Britten. I am an avid fan of his Piano Concerto, however, and it is with reference to this work that I plunged headlong into this recording. Reading from Jens F. Laurson's excellent liner notes, I see that it is a relatively early work, one of the first written after Britten had arrived in the US, 1939. 
   The music owes a great deal to the violin concerto by Berg, with several passages sounding strikingly similar. Overall, however, it is a charming work of great drama, with both tender and assertive moments. The opening Moderato con moto movement gives a tender opening, ripe with material for development. The vivace middle movement is my personal favourite, with a sweeping orchestral line recurring throughout. The final passacaglia movement is strongly reminiscent of Shostakovich, and serves as perhaps the strongest link to Weinberg's own musical language. 
   The solo part for the Britten, while virtuosic, also demands a great sense of leading a drama. Roth fills the position of orator admirably, with little doubt as to his coolness in the role. Balance across the orchestra is excellent, giving a well-polished sound, particularly emphasised in the 'punching' gestures to be heard in the middle movement. The recording throughout is nuanced and warm, paying attention to the delicacies of Britten's orchestration, as well as the ferocity of his punctuating motifs throughout. If anything, this encourages me to seek out Britten's other concerto works. 

Next I turn to a work that I am much more familiar with, Weinberg's Violin Concerto, Op. 67. Written in 1959 and dedicated to Leonid Kogan, it is a world apart from his Violin Concertino, which readers may be familiar with, owing to the spate of recordings released recently. If the concertino can be said to represent a cheerful attitude in the face of adversity, then the 1959 work is a serious soloistic piece, rich with drama. It was premiered by Kogan in 1961, with Kondrashin conducting. A star in his own right, Kogan had a reputation for his strongly pro-Soviet leanings - though this may be a result of his international success, which he whole-heartedly attributed to the support of the Soviet government (similar to Weinberg's own enthusiasm). The concerto is marked by its near-relentless solo part, which barely rests for more than a moment, particularly in the first movement. In its four-movement structure, the work harks back to the classical Concerto, a parallel reinforced by Weinberg's inclusion of a Mozart quote in the Adagio third movement (a theme taken from the 'little' G minor Symphony). My previous experience of this work stems from Kondrashin and Kogan's formidable recording, made soon after the premiere performance. After then, recordings have been few and far between (but include a Naxos-label CD featuring Ilya Grubert on violin). With an interpretation as strong as Roth and Kütson's here, it is my hope that this CD will act as a case for other soloists to take up this work. 
   Shostakovich wrote to his friend Isaak Glikman in 1960, mentioning Weinberg's Violin Concerto:
I am very impressed by M.S. Vainberg’s Violin Concerto... It is a magnificent work. And I am weighing my words.
Of course, Shostakovich's own violin concertos are apt for comparison with Weinberg's own, particularly Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto, written 1947-48.
   The first movement opens with a strident gesture, quickly answered by the soloist. This immediately establishes the soloist-ensemble dialogue over the course of the work - that the Violin solo really does lead the music, in a brawling drama that is fully sustained over the course of the whole Concerto. Roth's handling of the virtuosic part is excellent throughout, never rising above a controlled restrain through the most fiendish passages, while also extremely tender in the Adagio movement.

Overall, I cannot fault this recording, particularly the lush sound engineering. I can only hope that this disc can serve as a persuasive case to encourage other violinists to take up both of these works - but especially the Weinberg.


The Challenge Records website - here (also featuring more information about the disc) - link.

Recommended comparative listening

Naxos, Miaskovsky and Vainberg, Violin Concertos, Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, Dmitri Yablovsky cond., Ilya Grubert (Violin). Link here.

Melodiya - Vainberg, Violin Concerto and Symphony No. 4, Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, Kiril Kondrashin cond., Leonid Kogan (Violin).
 - A really splendid recording, still setting the bar to which all others must live up to. The actual disc is rather tricky to find, though the recording has helpfully been uploaded onto youtube:

And for those eager for more media from Mr. Roth, see this excellent youtube video, discussing the album:

P.S. - keep posted for my upcoming feature on Britten and Weinberg. D.E.

Thursday 20 March 2014

March update

A quick selection of upcoming releases, events and Weinberg-related resources around the web.

Album releases
I am awaiting the following discs, reviews will be posted over the coming weeks:

Linus Roth (Violin) with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, con. Mihkel Kütson

Linus Roth plays violin concertos by Britten and Weinberg. link here.

Weinberg chamber music for Strings, featuring the Piano Trio, Violin Sonatina and the rarely heard Double Bass Sonata. CPO label.

Available on the website here.

Coming May 2014 - the next installment in the Naxos Weinberg Symphonies series, featuring Vladimir Lande and the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Choir (Lande and the Orchestra having already featured on three Naxos Weinberg releases previously).

Performing the 18th Symphony, Op. 138 'War, there is no word more cruel', and the Trumpet Concerto, Op. 94, featuring Andrew Balio.

(My thanks go to Claude Torres for drawing my attention to this release). 

Weinberg links around the web

'Crusading for Weinberg': Linus Roth talks to Edward Seckerson (Youtube)

'Russia's third great composer' - Norman Lebrecht has Weinberg as disc of the week

Zaubersee Festival, Lucern 28th May-1st June 2014, with a focus on Weinberg's music

My own work

My work is ticking along nicely, with my attention now on writing my thesis itself, focusing on the context and analysis of Weinberg's Seventeen String Quartets.

I am also very happy to announce that I have an article coming out in the Musical Times hopefully by the end of this year, entitled 'Weinberg, Shostakovich, and the Influence of Anxiety'. See abstract below:

The close friendship between Weinberg and Shostakovich is well documented, particularly concerning their string quartets. The pair discussed their works during compositional gestation, and a friendly ‘competition’ for writing quartets started between them in the 1950s. Each was ‘winning’ at different points in time, but Weinberg was the ultimate victor with seventeen by the time of his death in 1996. The strong influence of Shostakovich in Weinberg’s music has been grounds for criticism and even dismissal, but what is less known is the truly reciprocal nature of their creative relationship. Weinberg was thirteen years his junior, but his first quartet predates Shostakovich’s by a year. Weinberg’s early work was prolific, having written six quartets by the time of Shostakovich’s third in 1946. Examining Shostakovich’s scores following these works reveals a great exchange of ideas between the two friends, with an undeniable influence from Weinberg in several pieces. With examples from the music of both composers, this article maps out a network of mutual influence. Such an unusual case study fits uneasily within several theorists' conceptions of artistic influence, none more than Harold Bloom and his book The Anxiety of Influence. Building on Weinberg and Shostakovich's example, I argue that Bloom's theory is not only ill-suited to their friendship, but indicative of a wider out-dated trend across theoretical thinking in the arts.


Tuesday 11 March 2014

Weinberg links around the web

This is simply a list of links for my recommended websites around the net, all related to Weinberg in some way.

Peer Music's page on Weinberg
PeerMusic, one of the main publishers of Weinberg's music. Their pages on Weinberg include a biography, select discography, a worklist and notes on a selection of Weinberg's works. There are also links to buy sheet music. (The equivalent pages on their German website offer a more extensive selection of sheet music to purchase - see link here ).

Sikorski's page on Weinberg
Similarly, Sikorski publishing's page on Weinberg is also informative, with a wide selection of sheet music to hire/purchase, and a particularly feature detailing upcoming performances.

Peermusic's page on ISSUU
ISSUU is a platform for publishers to share documents, allowing free reading access (but no download function). Peermusic have uploaded a wide selection of Weinberg scores, all free to read, including symphonies and chamber music. - an excellent resource
From what I gather, a site run by an enthusiastic admirer of Weinberg's music, providing an excellent collection of information, articles, weblinks, reviews and news.

Weinberg Discography - maintained by Claude Torres
An indispensable resource for Weinberg enthusiasts online. Mr. Torres's discography is fastidiously detailed, and updated extremely frequently, with details for each of Weinberg's works, organised by opus number. Also features a thorough catalogue of Weinberg's music, including works for film.

Weinberg timeline
Put together by the late Ian MacDonald, with the late Per Skans, this timeline provides a wealth of information. Mostly accurate, a few opus numbers missing, and a small handful of errors, but useful nonetheless.

Weinberg spotify collection
For users of the music streaming software Spotify, a user called Ulysses has compiled a chronological collection of all the Weinberg recordings available on their service. Extremely useful for those readers eager to hear more of Weinberg's music.

The International Mieczysław Weinberg Society
A recently established group seeking to promote Weinberg's life and works with concerts, recordings, and publications. Run by international violinist Linus Roth, with Irina Shostakovich as honorary president.


I'm sure I shall be adding to this list of recommended links. If you run a website that you would like me to feature, please do not hesitate to get in touch. D.E.

Tuesday 11 February 2014

February Update

Upcoming releases
The month of February brings several exciting Weinberg releases, some already available, some new and some with world premiere recordings.

First of all, the CPO label will be issuing a boxset of Weinberg's String Quartets, as recorded by the Quatuor Danel. Seeing as these recordings form a cornerstone that I consult on a daily basis, I can't recommend these enough. The six-volume cycle will be packaged in one box-set, at the extremely attractive price of EUR 29.99. From the CPO's site: (link).

Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s genuinely awe-inspiring complete seventeen string quartets are now available in a box set in interpretations by the Belgian Danel Quartet that can only be described as a musical blessing. Inspired by Shostakovich’s widow Irina (and other factors), the Quatuor Danel began acquiring the scores of all seventeen Weinberg quartets in 1995 and after a number of years (2007 to 2012) has now finished its complete recording for cpo. The BBC Music Magazine immediately named the first volume the best chamber music CD in March 2008, and further prizes followed. klassik-heute. com wrote, »In content and skill the works are equal to good works by Shostakovich, but this does not at all mean that Weinberg was a Shostakovich imitator. The Danels perform with unabating, often almost urgent intensity.« And Weinberg’s teacher and friend Shostakovich never missed an opportunity to recommend the works of his friend and fellow musician Weinberg. They were brothers in spirit. Both worked in manifold genres and over a broad stylistic spectrum ranging from folklore (in Weinberg’s case, Jewish folklore in particular) to twelve-tone elements. In the field of the string quartet Shostakovich involved his pupil in a friendly competition and was very happy in 1964 to be the first of the two to write his No. 10. Our final volume received the highest marks from klassik-heute. com: »A full 10 for exciting music and its enthralling interpretation by an exciting ensemble.«

There is also news of another upcoming release from the CPO label - 'Chamber Music for Strings'.

    Led by the same musician who brought us the 'Chamber Music for woodwinds' release a few years ago, Elisaveta Blumina, the release promises to feature the following works:

Piano trio op. 24;
Sonatina for Violin & Piano op. 46;
Sonata for Double Bass solo op. 108

If the previous cd is anything to go by, this should worth buying. 

I mentioned world-premiere recordings above, and the latest disc from Toccata Classics promises just that.

This upcoming disc is listed as 'in preparation' on the Toccata website (with very little information provided besides that and the album cover, seen above). Works to be featured:

Symphony No. 21, 'Kaddish', Op. 152 [wth Veronika Bartenyeva, Soprano] (World Premiere recording)
Polish Tunes, Op. 47, No. 2 (Also a world premiere)

The Siberian Symphony Orchestra, under Dmitry Vasilyev.
I must admit, I'm particularly excited about this release, I'm always pleased with premiere recordings. This leaves just Symphonies 9, 11, 13 and 15 still to be recorded.

Of course, is you can't until these discs are released, I still heartily recommend Gidon Kremer and the Kremerata Baltica's 2-disc set, which was something of a revelation when I reviewed it here.


Here's a few of the latest youtube videos of Weinberg:

Linus Roth and José Gollardo play the Weinberg Sonatina, Op. 46:

A preview of the Naxos Symphony 12 recording: (see my review here).


My own work is ticking along nicely. I recently survived my latest PhD assessment panel. My writing is now focusing on analysis of the Weinberg Quartets - I'm currently up to 12 out of 17! In publication news, I am pleased to announce that my manuscript for a set of conference proceedings has been submitted, with the full text available hopefully from June of this year, with paper copies available some time in Winter. Until then, some of my academic work is available for you to read on my profile on - link.

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 - ( link)