About this Recording
8.574192 - WEINBERG, M.: Clarinet Music - Clarinet Concerto / Clarinet Sonata / Chamber Symphony No. 4 (Oberaigner, Schöch, Michail Jurowski)

Mieczysław Weinberg (1919–1996)
Clarinet Music


Mieczysław Weinberg was born in Warsaw on 8 December 1919, where he emerged as a highly regarded pianist who might well have continued his studies in the US until the Nazi invasion forced him to flee to Minsk (in the course of which his travel documents were inscribed as Moisey Vainberg, by which name he was ‘officially’ known until 1982). During 1939–41 he studied composition with Vasily Zolotaryov then, after the Nazi invasion, headed further east to Tashkent where he duly became immersed in numerous theatrical and operatic projects. There he also wrote his First Symphony, which favourably impressed Shostakovich and resulted in his settling in Moscow in 1943 where he was to remain for the rest of his life. Despite various personal setbacks (his father-inlaw, the renowned actor Solomon Mikhoels, was murdered in 1948, and Weinberg himself was imprisoned for alleged ‘Jewish subversion’ then freed only after the death of Stalin in 1953), he gradually gained a reputation as a figure who was championed by many of the leading Soviet singers, instrumentalists and conductors.

Despite receiving various official honours, Weinberg’s fortunes declined noticeably over his final two decades—not least owing to the emergence of a younger generation of composers whose perceived antagonism to the Soviet establishment secured them greater coverage in the West (where Weinberg was never to enjoy more than a modest presence even during his heyday) and his death in Moscow on 26 February 1996 went largely unnoticed. Since then, however, his output—which comprises 26 symphonies and 17 string quartets, together with seven operas, some two-dozen song cycles and a wealth of chamber and instrumental music—has secured an increasing number of performances and recordings, and is now held in great regard as a significant as well as personal continuation of the Russian symphonic tradition.

The present album collates those three works featuring clarinet, an instrument Weinberg would have known from his earliest years given its presence in klezmer bands or theatre ensembles. Composed in 1970 (details of its first performance remain unclear, though it was published in 1977), the Clarinet Concerto is perhaps the most immediately arresting of Weinberg’s works in this genre. As with the Violin Concertino and First Flute Concerto [Naxos 8.573931], the accompaniment is limited to strings, but Weinberg secures a notably wide range of textures from these forces articulating the melodic ideas over each of its three movements. The customary fast-slow-fast format is observed, the latter two movements playing without pause.

The first movement opens with a purposeful idea on clarinet over pizzicato strings, its tensile momentum enhanced by restive interjections from strings. There follows a more inward and eloquent theme with repeated note gestures on strings, before the initial impetus re-emerges for a sequence of sardonic exchanges with motifs from both themes pressed into service. The initial idea presently continues as part of a modified reprise with the second theme accorded greater space, latterly interrupted by elements from the earlier theme for an angular coda that drives towards a hectic conclusion. The second movement starts with a nobly wrought string threnody, joined by clarinet for what soon evolves into a heartfelt and melancholic discourse. This dies down in lower strings, before building to an impassioned climax suddenly curtailed to leave the clarinet musing uncertainly in the company of lower strings then solo viola. The closing pages anticipate the emotional fatalism to come. Here, however, the final movement is launched by a perky theme shared between clarinet and upper strings over a deft pizzicato accompaniment. This soon provokes a more confrontational response from strings, though a graceful idea steers the music toward more pensive waters. Lively gestures from strings lead into a brief if eventful clarinet cadenza, duly capped by the strings’ resolute cadential chords.

Earliest of these works is the Clarinet Sonata, written in 1945 and given its premiere on 20 April the following year at the Small Hall of Moscow Conservatoire with clarinettist Vasily Getman and the composer as pianist. Before the current wave of interest in Weinberg, this piece had already found favour—hardly surprising given its formal and expressive poise.

The first movement opens with a ruminative theme on clarinet, latterly joined by piano in an understated dialogue that evinces greater animation when a second theme emerges. A central climax has this theme elaborated in more forceful terms, before the second theme resumes its lively course prior to a return of the initial theme then a pensive close. The second movement begins with a capering theme, underpinned by fanfare-like repeated notes on piano and taking on more angular expression as it unfolds. A central section features an elegant, folk-inflected melody that builds to an unexpectedly fraught climax before a transition on piano back to the initial theme, betraying greater pathos as it draws to a regretful conclusion. This is pursued in the final movement, its lengthy piano prelude touching on greater emotional depth before the clarinet emerges with an improvisatory passage which draws both instruments into an intense discourse. Over rolling piano chords the clarinet unfolds a bittersweet melodic line, which almost inevitably subsides into musing retrospection and so brings this work to its resigned ending.

Written between 30 April and 12 May 1992, the Fourth Chamber Symphony also proved to be Weinberg’s last completed work. Here the strings are bolstered by obbligato clarinet (in A) and triangle (heard just four times during the finale). Unlike its predecessors, the piece has no recourse to any of the composer’s string quartets and its movements unfold as an unbroken continuity. It does, even so, allude to various earlier pieces—most notably through a chorale melody that Weinberg had referred to as a constant presence over the extent of his creativity. Dedicated to the composer Boris Tchaikovsky, his younger contemporary and a confidante of longstanding, the piece went unheard in Weinberg’s lifetime: its first hearing was most likely at recording sessions by Thord Svedlund with the Umeå Symphony Orchestra in May 1998.

The opening movement indeed commences with that chorale, its nostalgia shot through with muted anguish. This is presently elaborated across the strings, without increase in tension or dynamics, until the clarinet makes a discreet entrance, its lilting theme heard against pizzicato accompaniment and with a haunting countermelody. The latter duly makes a transition back into the chorale, gradually regaining its initial somnolence and then on to a motionless close. The second movement affords total contrast, its hectic main theme shared between clarinet and strings over pulsating accompaniment. A second idea is no less conflicted in its starkly rhythmic exchanges between upper and lower strings, before intensive development of both themes with clarinet to the fore. There follow impassioned solos for violin then double bass; after which, the third movement begins with pensive exchanges between clarinet and lower strings. This evolves haltingly into an eloquent discourse for strings, also heard soloistically, which alludes back to the chorale melody as it builds towards a plangent culmination joined by clarinet. A resonant pause ushers in the final and longest movement, initially evoking the desolate mood at the start until clarinet makes its reticent entry. A triangle stroke launches a plaintive melody for clarinet with klezmer overtones, bringing a more animated though still restrained expression, with winsome writing from upper strings. Intensifying, this reaches a sustained climax with a sudden descent on clarinet then an abrupt exchange with double bass, heading to a resigned close on lower strings with pizzicato chords and one last triangle chime.

Richard Whitehouse

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