WEINBERG Symphony No 12. The Golden Key
Perhaps you have observed the recent explosion of Weinberg recordings and are wondering whether the pendulum may have swung too far in his favour. Perhaps you have sampled some of the alternative versions in the repertoire on Gidon Kremer’s new two-disc set and are doubtful as to whether it’s worth the extra outlay. Either way, I can’t recommend the new issue too highly. Kremer brings not just his unmistakable wiry sound quality to bear but also a sheer force of musical personality that brings the music off the page in a way that only the greatest Weinberg recordings do (I mean by the likes of Oistrakh, Kogan, Rostropovich, Gilels, Kondrashin, Barshai, the Borodin Quartet and the composer himself; conflict of interest probably prevents me from mentioning my colleagues, the Quatuor Danel).
Even Barshai’s superb 1970 recording of Symphony No 10 with his own elite Moscow Chamber Orchestra (in its day on Olympia and Russian Disc) meets its match. This is Weinberg at his most exploratory, even experimental; if you think you hear Schnittke’s First Concerto grosso in the background, bear in mind that it was written nearly 10 years later. It needs a performance of unwavering focus, huge range of colour and consummate individual and corporate agility to bring it off. Which is exactly what it gets here.
Kremer himself opens his survey with a masterly account of the Sonata No 3 for solo violin, another of Weinberg’s most uncompromising scores. It takes a lot to put the only previous recording, by Victor Pikaizen (Melodiya), in the shade but Kremer manages it; there are two more contenders in the pipeline but they really have their work cut out now.
The other three works, composed during the especially challenging years for Soviet composers from 1948 50, all show the composer’s more genial side. Kremer and his colleagues are in tune with that, too, and they tease out the darker shades that give Weinberg’s music at this time more durability than so many of his colleagues. Kremer himself is well spotlit throughout but never did I feel that the music was being used to feed his ego. On the contrary, his interpretative daring and technical resources bring out qualities others miss and make each piece more urgently communicative than ever before. Daniil Trifonov’s brief but telling contribution leaves me eager to hear more of his evidently starry talent.
All these qualities are conspicuous by their absence from the new St Petersburg account of Symphony No 12. This is Weinberg’s tribute to Shostakovich, composed the year after the death of his great friend and idol, and also his longest purely instrumental symphony. Although there are many stirring and a few breathtaking ideas here, they can feel over-stretched in such a worthy but – sorry to say – limp performance (57 minutes, as opposed to Maxim Shostakovich’s 52 in his admittedly tough-to-find but sterling version, also once upon a time available on Olympia and Russian Disc). The Suite from the Pinocchio-ballet The Golden Key is jolly enough but again no competition for the rival Gothenburg version. Not a high priority, then, unless you really can’t wait for a better alternative in the Symphony.