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)
Amazon.co.uk - 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. Amazon.co.uk 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 jpc.de 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.

Weinberg.net - 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.