I am very pleased that the world is slowly recognizing Mieczysław Weinberg as an important composer. His great colleague, friend and patron Dmitri Shostakovich would have been enormously happy about this. I hope many performers will be drawn to investigate his musical legacy. For me personally, the treasure trove of his compositions remains a constant source of enthusiasm and inspiration.
– Gidon Kremer
This new album from Gidon Kremer, Kremerata Baltica and soloists, recorded at Neuhardenberg and Lockenhaus in 2012 and 2013, makes a strong case for Shostakovich’s assertion that Weinberg was one of the great composers of his era. He was certainly amongst the most prolific, with a work list that includes seven operas, twenty-two symphonies, ten concertos, seventeen string quartets and a vast output of chamber and vocal works.
Born in Warsaw in 1919, Mieczysław Weinberg studied at the Polish capital’s conservatory. His plans for further study in the United States were thwarted by the outbreak of World War II: when the Nazis invaded Poland, Weinberg fled first to Minsk and then to Tashkent. He moved to Moscow in 1943 where, his troubles far from over, he was targeted both for his modernist musical leanings and his Jewish background. (With some of his works blacklisted, Weinberg’s only income for years came from incidental music written for local theatre productions.) In 1953 he was arrested on charges of ‘Jewish bourgeois nationalism’, and jailed. Shostakovich wrote letters on his behalf, and after Stalin’s death Weinberg was released and officially rehabilitated.
Near neighbours in Moscow, Weinberg and Shostakovich spent much time together. As Wolfgang Sandner writes in the liner notes, “the two close friends, though thirteen years apart, constantly showed each other their new scores, often played piano duets together and exchanged ideas on art and composition.” Like many composers in the Soviet Union, Weinberg was obliged to spend much of his creative life negotiating the margins of freedom between official doctrine and artistic necessity. As the demands from above for Socialist Realism began to slacken in the 1960s and 70s, his art moved into its most productive phase.
The present double album opens with one of his most remarkable creations from this latter period, the extensive (22-minutes) and complex third violin sonata of 1978. Kremer ranks this work alongside Bartók’s Sonata for Solo Violin as one of the masterpieces for the instrument.
“This is music that speaks to us,” writes Wolfgang Sandner, “full of dynamism, colour and detailed articulation that never ossifies into virtuosity for its own sake. The wealth of invention in the sonata and the advanced sounds of the Tenth Symphony bear witness to a composer at the same high level as a Shostakovich or Prokofiev.”
Kremer and friends explore Weinberg’s chamber music – the Trio op 48 (composed 1950) and the Sonatina op.46 (1949) – and the commitment and skills of the Kremerata musicians are brought to bear on two strikingly-contrasting compositions for string orchestra, the graceful and lyrical Concertino op. 42 (1948) and the adventurous and gripping Symphony no 10 (1968), bringing12-tone rows and chordal structure into unexpected juxtapositions.
Mieczysław Weinberg died in Moscow in 1996. In recent years his works have begun to get a wider hearing. In particular his opera about the Holocaust, “The Passenger”, never staged in Weinberg’s lifetime, has made headlines. After a concertante version was produced in Moscow in 2006, the full staged version was premiered at the Bregenz Festival in 2010 and subsequently presented in London and Warsaw. The US premiere was in Houston in January 2014. New York performances at the Drill Hall follow in July.
Meanwhile Gidon Kremer and Kremerata Baltica continue to make the music of Mieczysław Weinberg a focus of their international touring repertoire.
Latvian-born master violinist Gidon Kremer founded Kremerata Baltica in 1997 to foster outstanding young musicians from Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, the three Baltic States. Other ECM recordings with Kremerata Baltica include: “Hymns and Prayers” with works by Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer, César Franck and Giya Kancheli; a Mahler/Shostakovich volume with the adagio of Gustav Mahler’s unfinished 10th Symphony, as well as the 14th Symphony of Dmitri Shostakovich; Franz Schubert’s G Major String Quartet orchestrated by Victor Kissine; Sofia Gubaidulina’s “Lyre of Orpheus”; Kancheli’s “In l’istesso tempo”; Victor Kissine’s “Between Two Waves”, and, in the Edition Lockenhaus box set, Messiaen’s “Trois petites Liturgies de la Présence Divine” and Richard Strauss’s “Metamorphosen”.
CD includes German-English booklet with extensive liner notes by Wolfgang Sandner, placing Mieczysław Weinberg’s music in its historical context.