New Release from ECM by Kremerata Baltica and Gidon Kremer
In 2014 ECM New Series featured Kremerata Baltica in a widely-praised album dedicated to the music of Mieczysław Weinberg. Now Gidon Kremer’s orchestra continues the story, turning its attention to the four chamber symphonies completed in the last decade of the Polish-born Soviet composer’s life. The arc of the album – recorded in Vienna and in Riga in June 2015 – also embraces a striking new arrangement, by Gidon Kremer and Kremerata percussionist Andrey Pushkarev, of Weinberg’s early Piano Quintet.
In his recollection of Mieczysław Weinberg in the liner notes, fellow composer Alexander Raskatov speaks of the “incredible renaissance” of Weinberg’s music, a revival which might well have amazed its author. Since his death in 1996, Weinberg’s work has been widely re-evaluated, with Gidon Kremer and Kremerata Baltica among the artists calling for broader recognition for a composer who “strongly opposed any division of music into avant-garde and ‘arrière-garde’, as Raskatov remembers.
Born in Warsaw in 1919, the son of a Jewish theatre musician, Weinberg taught himself to play the piano, continuing studies at the Warsaw Conservatory. 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, escaping the fate that befell his family. He moved to Moscow in 1943 at the suggestion of Shostakovich, who had admired the score of his first symphony. The two composers subsequently became close friends and exchanged ideas on art and music.
Shostakovich’s endorsement was eventually echoed by outstanding musicians including Oistrakh, Rostropovich and the Borodin Quartet. Weinberg was a prolific composer, writing 26 symphonies, 17 string quartets, six concertos, seven operas, 28 sonatas, more than 200 songs, scores for 60 films, theatre music and more. But his relationship to Soviet officialdom was often troubled. 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. 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.
As the demands from above for Socialist Realism began to slacken in the 1960s and 70s, his art moved into its most productive phase, but his independence as thinker left him outside all the musical tendencies of the day. A number of his works, including his Holocaust-inspired opera Passazhirka (The Passenger), were not performed in his lifetime.
The Kremer/Pushkarev arrangement of the Piano Quintet op. 18 extends the creative spirit of Weinberg’s reworkings of his own material: each of his chamber symphonies developed earlier music and took it to new places. The kernel of the Chamber Symphony No. 1 (1986) can be found in Weinberg’s Second String Quartet, written 45 years earlier. “He continued the process,” writes David Fanning in the liner notes, “by reworking his Third String Quartet as Chamber Symphony No. 2 and his Fifth String Quartet as Chamber Symphony No. 3. These were all rehabilitations of previously unpublished works. Finally he added the profoundly introspective Chamber Symphony No. 4, his last completed opus, based not on a string quartet but on several of his late works,”
Weinberg’s chamber symphonies are, Gidon Kremer says, “the most personal reflections of a great composer on his own life and his generation, like a diary of the most dramatic period of the 20th century.”
The violinist considers the present Weinberg recording “the most valuable landmark” in Kremerata Baltica’s discography, and the album is released in time for a major tour celebrating both the orchestra’s 20th anniversary as well as its leader’s 70th birthday. Weinberg’s compositions form an integral part of the orchestra’s concert repertoire in the current season.
CD booklet, with text in English and German, includes liner notes by Weinberg’s biographer David Fanning, as well as a personal recollection by composer Alexander Raskatov.