North East Post
A Voice of the Free Press
Andrew Palmer
Group Editor
1:01 AM 25th November 2023

Classical Music: Weinberg 12

Mieczysław Weinberg
Dawn, Op. 60; Symphony No. 12, Op. 114 'In memoriam Dmitri Shostakovich'

BBC Philharmonic. Conductor John Storgårds

Chandos CHAN 20165

The opening eighteen-minute atmospheric tone poem, Dawn, highlights Weinberg’s orchestration skills and his ability to quote from other composers, notably his friend Shostakovich.

Every five years, the Soviet Union celebrated the anniversary of the October 1917 Revolution with large-scale public events, to which the country’s leading artists were expected to contribute. Weinberg’s Dawn, dedicated to the fortieth anniversary of the Revolution, seems to have remained unperformed during his lifetime, despite its ideologically irreproachable content.

John Storgårds and the BBC Philharmonic, who also gave its première in the BBC studios in Manchester on May 15, 2019, capture the intensity and conviction with resonant low strings and the excellence of the muted brass section. It has a mysterious feel to it before climaxing in a spirited conclusion.

When Shostakovich died on August 9, 1975, it had been five years since Weinberg composed his last symphony. To commemorate his friend and mentor (whom he regarded as the greatest symphonist of his age), Weinberg decided on a full-scale, four-movement, non-programmatic work as his personal tribute.

The symphony tests the mettle of the orchestra with its technical demands, but the BBC Phil rises to the challenge with virtuosic skill, giving an assured reading that meets the challenges of the score, particularly the rhythmic pulse and the different moods. The brilliance of the strings and woodwind catapult the listener into a mood of soulfulness and desolation in the third movement adagio. Time seems to be encroaching as the quiet ending dissipates into the ether.

However, the tone changes with the marimba announcing the fourth movement. David Fanning writes in the notes: ‘Without a break, the marimba leads off the Allegro finale with a child-like theme set bitonally against the strings, using the short-short-long repeated-note figure so often favoured by Shostakovich.’

As the tension is briefly pierced, Storgårds heads to the conclusion; none of the colour is lost as each section contributes to the cohesiveness of the movement. The final few minutes conjure up a meditative style with inventive and intense orchestration until the final few bars powerfully free the listener, which, as David Fanning describes, must rank as one of Weinberg’s most enigmatic and unsettling conclusions.

This is the first of a series of Weinberg Symphony recordings with the BBC Philharmonic and John Storgårds, superbly recorded by the Chandos team.