Vainberg Chamber Symphonies Nos 1,3 & 4

Three works premiered between 1986 and 1992 from a composer much admired by Shostakovich and well worth investigating

Author: 
John Warrack

Vainberg Chamber Symphonies Nos 1,3 & 4

  • Chamber Symphony No. 1
  • Chamber Symphony No. 3
  • Chamber Symphony No. 4

Vainberg's chamber symphonies are not really distinct in nature from some of the earlier works he described just as 'symphonies'. Having reached No 19, he simply thought that the numbering was getting out of hand and started again (the manuscript cover of what was originally No 20, reproduced in the booklet, shows him crossing out various titles). The new No 1, for strings, is a charming piece, owing much to Prokofiev at his most 'classical' and none the worse for that.
The Fourth is a much odder conception. Vainberg described it as for string orchestra and clarinet, but it is neither a clarinet concerto (despite some powerful solo gestures) nor a symphony, making some use of clarinet coloration; and, to confuse matters further, a solo cello gets a big cadenza. Skilfully played as it is here, there is a confusion of creative direction which all Vainberg's fluency of invention cannot really overcome.
Both these works appeared a year ago in graceful, elegant performances from Bengt Sandstrom and the Umea Symphony Orchestra; the new ones are very similar in manner, but the record has as a bonus the Third Chamber Symphony. This is also rather oddly constructed, with an elegiac first movement of much emotional strength, a Scherzo of almost Shostakovich-like violence, and a third movement that deals in instrumental recitative and song-like aria before a lighter finale. Vainberg clearly owes much to the greater talents of Shostakovich (who much admired and helped him) and Prokofiev, but he is a skilful and sympathetic composer in his own right. Moreover, he has the capacity to haunt the imagination more than sometimes seems likely at first hearing.'

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