In concert – Sheku Kanneh-Mason, CBSO / Charlotte Politi: Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich & Weinberg

16-March-Sheku-KM

Tchaikovsky Swan Lake, Act 2 – Scène, Op. 20 No. 10 (1875-6)
Shostakovich
Cello Concerto No. 2 in G, Op. 126 (1966)
Weinberg
Symphony No. 3 in B minor, Op. 45 (1949-50, rev. 1959)

Sheku Kanneh-Mason (cello, above), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Charlotte Politi (below)

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Wednesday 16 March 2022

Written by Richard Whitehouse

This evening’s concert by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra should have been a Weinberg double-bill but the last-minute indisposition of Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (having tested positive for Covid) brought to the podium one of the orchestra’s assistant conductors, Charlotte Politi.

Something in the programme had to give and that was only the second hearing in the UK for Weinberg’s Fourth Symphony, an incisively neo-classical piece long familiar to enthusiasts through the Melodiya recording issued in the 1970s and which, while it lacks the gravitas of later symphonies, is never less than engaging in its own right. Instead, the programme began with the ‘Scène’ from Act Two of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake (itself the opening number of the suite) – its fraught pathos enticingly realized, if making for an all-too brief curtain-raiser.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason was still present for Shostakovich’s Second Cello Concerto, among the first products of his final creative period and one of his most equivocal works in any medium. Most accounts over-stress its introspection, but Kanneh-Mason gauged the varied expressive shades of its Adagio with unforced rightness; its wrenching climax finding acute contrast with the sombre rumination from which it emerges and to which it returns. The ensuing Allegrettos could not be more dissimilar – a tensile and sardonic scherzo culminating in raucous fanfares as set into motion the finale. If coordination of soloist and orchestra in the former was a little tentative, Kanneh-Mason adroitly negotiated the latter’s gnomic dialogue – afforded focus by an easeful refrain and with a culmination of defiant exasperation, then a coda of furtive repose.

With its unshowy virtuosity and its concertante-like solo writing, this is a hard piece to bring off, but Kanneh-Mason rendered it with some conviction. He returned for an eloquent encore of what sounded to be a (Ukrainian?) folksong with the front four desks of the CBSO cellos.

After the interval, another chance to hear the Third Symphony by Weinberg this orchestra has rather made its own in recent seasons. Ostensibly a response to the anti-formalist campaign as spearheaded by Andrei Zhdanov, with the intention of making Soviet art more accountable to the public, its citing Belorussian and Polish folksongs is offset by the opening Allegro’s often ambivalent progress to a coda shot through with foreboding. Politi was often persuasive here, then not at all fazed by the Allegretto’s interplay of whimsical with a more sardonic humour.

Even better was to come in the Adagio’s finely sustained progress towards a climax of stark tragedy, only slightly mediated by the pensive close. An energetic final Allegro duly set out to secure an affirmative end, only to culminate in marked desperation, and it was a measure of Politi’s insight that the coda maintained its uncertainty even as those decisive closing bars echoed to silence. The CBSO responded impressively throughout a piece it must know better than any other orchestra, and it was to Politi’s credit that her own input was so often evident.

Hopefully MG-T will recover in time for the CBSO’s forthcoming European tour, such that Weinberg’s Fourth Symphony will gain the hearings it deserves. And if next season she can schedule the Fifth, arguably his finest purely orchestral symphony, then so much the better.

For more information on the CBSO’s spring tour, visit their website. Meanwhile for more information on the artists, click on the names to access the websites of Charlotte Politi and Sheku Kanneh-Mason. Meanwhile for more on composer Mieczysław Weinberg, click here

In concert – CBSO Centre Stage: Trios for flute, viola and harp (Marie-Christine Zupancic, David BaMaung & Katherine Thomas)

Instrument-detail-Neil-Pugh

Bax Elegiac Trio GP178 (1916)
Weinberg
Trio Op.127 (1979)
Debussy
Sonata for flute, viola and harp L137 (1915)

Members of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra [Marie-Christine Zupancic (flute), David BaMaung (viola), Katherine Thomas (harp)]

CBSO Centre, Birmingham
Thursday 18 November 2021

Written by Richard Whitehouse

Although little more than a century old, the enticing combination of flute, viola and harp has since given rise to a host of stylistically varied pieces – three of which were featured in this Centre Stage lunchtime recital by members of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

If not the most elaborate of his numerous works for mixed ensemble, Arnold Bax’s Elegiac Trio is surely among his most affecting as a (deliberately?) understated ‘in memoriam’ for those friends who had died as a result of the ill-fated Easter Uprising in Ireland. While the underlying mood rarely moves too far from that implied by the title, the close-knit motivic writing and subtly shifting emotions which are filtered through the textural ‘weave’ prove    as subtle as they are elusive – not least in a performance as focussed or as assured as this.

His extensive chamber output might be dominated by his 17 string quartets, but Mieczysław Weinberg wrote numerous pieces for sundry combinations – of which the present Trio could be considered typical of his spare and elusive later idiom. As in other works from this period, descriptions are replaced by metronome markings, endowing the music with an inscrutability as leaves the musicians to convey more tangible expression – whether in an initial movement that uncovers its formal trajectory as it brings these instruments into play, a central movement whose fragmentary textures never quite evolve into cohesive exchanges, then a finale whose vigorous rhythmic motion is tersely curtailed almost out of spite. An insightful account of an absorbing piece, especially when not given in its alternative version with piano replacing harp.

A recital such as this almost had to close with the Sonata by Debussy that will likely remain the template for this ensemble. Here, the opening Pastorale seemed a little too restive fully to convey this music’s ethereal emotion, but the Interlude found an ideal balance between incisiveness and elegance whose minuet-like gait belies its almost intuitive unfolding, while the Finale drew all three instruments into an inexorable motion through to the decisive close – the composer asserting his credentials as ‘musicien français’ with pointed understatement.

An appealing and not a little thought-provoking recital for which Marie-Christine Zupancic, David BaMaung and Katherine Thomas placed those present in their debt. The Centre Stage series continues on December 3rd, with a programme from the CBSO Percussion Ensemble.

Further information on future CBSO Stage concerts can be found here

On record – Weinberg: Complete Violin Sonatas Volume Three (Yuri Kalnits & Michael Csányi-Wills) (Toccata Classics)

weinberg-violin-sonatas

Mieczysław Weinberg
Violin Sonata no.3 Op.37 (1947)
Violin Sonata no.6 Op.136bis (1982)
Solo Violin Sonata no.3 Op.126 (1979)

Yuri Kalnits (violin), Michael Csányi-Wills (piano)

Toccata Classics TOCC00096 [60’36”]

Producers Yuri Kalnits, Michael Csányi-Wills
Engineer Rupert Coulson

Recorded 9-12 July 2016 at St John’s Fulham, London; 7-8 July 2020 at K Studios, London (Solo sonata)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

After a lengthy hiatus, Toccata Classics duly continues its series devoted to the violin sonatas by Mieczysław Weinberg with this third volume featuring two further sonatas with piano and the last of his solo sonatas – in performances comparable to those on the earlier two volumes.

What’s the music like?

It is a measure of how the Weinberg discography has grown that, in the decade or more since this cycle commenced, all the composer’s violin sonatas have now been recorded on several occasions. Good, then, that Toccata has opted to see it through as the interpretative stance of Yuri Kalnits and Michael Csányi-Wills is a persuasive one – not least for the subtlety of its interplay between violin and piano such as underlines the increasingly and flexibly idiomatic nature of Weinberg’s writing for a medium that remains problematic whatever its popularity.

With the Third Sonata (1947), Weinberg achieved an all-round assurance as is evident from the flexible handling of content within each of these progressively longer movements. Thus, the moderately paced initial Allegro exudes a purposefully provisional feel, fulfilled by the central Andantino with its achingly expressive deployment of Jewish folk elements, before being intensified in the final Allegretto cantabile that moves adeptly between eloquent and energetic ideas prior to a Lento coda which brings the work deftly and movingly full-circle.

Unlike its predecessors the Third Solo Sonata, dedicated to the memory of the composer’s father, unfolds as a continuous span which, though it can be viewed as several interrelated movements, is more akin to variational episodes on the motives heard at the outset. As if to underline this audacity, the writing for violin is the most resourceful and imaginative to be found in in any of these pieces – a heady succession of mood and textures such as reaffirms Weinberg’s technical and creative mastery when confronting apparent restrictions head-on. 

Weinberg abandoned the duo medium in the late 1950s and when the Sixth Sonata emerged, it went unacknowledged until 2007. Yet a work dedicated to the memory of his mother must have held a deeply personal significance. The initial Moderato, where the instruments come together only at the centre and are framed by an anguished prologue for violin then resigned epilogue for piano, speaks of intensely subjective emotion – as do the elegiac central Adagio and a finale which surveys previous material in a more consoling if ultimately fatalistic light.

Does it all work?

Yes, not least given the widely differing concept that underlies each piece (further proof that Weinberg repeated neither himself nor other composers), as well as the undemonstrative yet searching approach of the performers. Others may favour the commanding rhetoric of Linus Roth (Challenge Classics) or the forthright incisiveness of Stefan Kirpal (CPO), but the more understated manner of Kalnits and Csányi-Wills likely brings out the inward intensity of this music more completely. As a cycle for repeated listening, it should prove difficult to surpass.

Is it recommended?

Indeed, abetted by almost perfect instrumental balance and detailed notes by David Fanning. A fourth volume – which, other than the early Three Pieces, might feature the Sonata for Two Violins and Gidon Kremer’s arrangement of the 24 Preludes for cello – is keenly anticipated.

Listen

Buy

You can discover more about this release at the Toccata Classics website, where you can also purchase the recording. You can read more about Yuri Kalnits here, and more about Michael Csányi-Wills here

In concert – Karen Cargill, CBSO / Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla: Mirga conducts Weinberg

Mirga

Karen Cargill (mezzo-soprano, below), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (above)

Weinberg Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes Op.47/1 (1949)
Mahler Rückert-Lieder (1901-02)
Weinberg Symphony no.3 in B minor Op.45 (1949-50, rev. 1960)

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Wednesday 23 June 2021 (6.30pm)

Written by Richard Whitehouse Photo of Karen Cargill courtesy of Nadine Boyd Photography

The music of Mieczysław Weinberg has been a prominent feature in the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s programmes with its music director Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, and the Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes duly started this latest of the orchestra’s concerts in impressive fashion.

Written when Soviet composers were under intense pressure to create music of a populist – or rather, nationalistic – nature, its recourse to melodies emanating from the region of Bessarabia (from where the composer’s parents hailed) draws directly on a lineage from Liszt to Bartók and Kodály. Weinberg’s handling of these, in its subtle take on a slow-fast trajectory, is never less than assured. MGT undoubtedly had its measure, whether in the ruminative opening with its plangent woodwind or the boisterous later stages when brass comes irresistibly to the fore.

Itself a revival (having been played at Symphony Hall in 2019 then at that year’s Proms), the Third Symphony is a more considered response to the anti-formalist campaign spearheaded by Andrei Zhdanov with the intention of making Soviet music more accountable to its public. Hence the inclusion of Belorussian and Polish folksong, though Weinberg is mindful to offset these with a formal rigour as, in the initial Allegro, ensures an emotionally restless unfolding to a coda shot-through with foreboding – one of several passages likely made more explicit in the subsequent revision. Here, as in the wistful second theme (akin to what Malcolm Arnold was writing around this time) then a climactic transition heading into the reprise, the CBSO’s playing underlined its ongoing affinity with this music which held good through to the close.

Hardly less idiomatic was the scherzo’s interplay of capricious with a more sardonic humour, then the Adagio’s sustained yet cumulative progress towards a climax of stark tragedy – only slightly pacified in the inward closing phase. If the animated finale strives to secure an overly affirmative ending, it was a measure of this account that any such optimism was held in check until the peremptory last bars. Weinberg could scarcely have hoped to hear a more perceptive performance: good to hear both this and the Rhapsody were being recorded for future release.

Between these pieces, Karen Cargill joined the CBSO for Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder (evidently the first time the orchestra has given them since baritone Olaf Bär with Simon Rattle in 1992). She drew a keen irony from Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder, then rendered Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft with appealing deftness. With its fugitive writing for woodwind and brass, and a fervent climax capped by garish arabesques from piano, Um Mitternacht is a difficult song to bring off but was notably effective, and the only disappointment was a rather inert take on Liebst du um Schönheit – Max Puttmann’s sub-Léhar orchestration at least partly to blame. Nor was Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen ideally transcendent, yet the eloquence of Cargill’s response left no doubt concerning its status as arguably the greatest orchestral Lied.

A judiciously planned concert, then, in which the rapport between orchestra and conductor came through these past 15 months unscathed. The CBSO returns next Wednesday with its principal guest conductor Kazuki Yamada in a programme of Julian Anderson and Dvorák.

You can find information on the CBSO’s next concert at their website

Live review – Nicola Benedetti, Royal Scottish National Orchestra / Thomas Søndergård: Polska Scotland opening concert

nicola-benedetti-rsno

Nicola Benedetti (violin, photo by Martin Shields), Royal Scottish National Orchestra Thomas Søndergård

RSNO Studio, Glasgow
Broadcast Friday 16 April 2021, available online until Friday 30 July 2021

Weinberg Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes Op.47/1 (1949)
Szymanowski Violin Concerto no.1 Op.35 (1922)
Panufnik Sinfonia Sacra (Symphony no.3) (1964)

Written by Ben Hogwood

The first concert of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s Polska Scotland season provided a tempting mix of 20th century pieces. The season is exploring connections between the two countries, and watching the accompanying video (at the bottom of this page) reveals a number of interesting and pertinent connections, not least in the orchestra itself.

The choice of repertoire here was refreshing, too. Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto no.1 is more of a regular repertoire piece these days, but the same could certainly not be said of the inclusions from Mieczysław Weinberg, the Polish composer who found his way to Moscow in the 1940s, and Andrzej Panufnik, who fled Warsaw for London ten years later.

Weinberg’s parents moved to Poland from Moldova in 1916, and this concert began with the composer’s Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes, exploring the heritage of his parents through the development of contrasting folk tunes. In this way he was following the lead of folk-based pieces for orchestra from the likes of Kodály, Enescu and Bartók, relishing the chance to project and develop the music of their home countries through the concert hall.

The RSNO strings were appropriately deadpan at the start, their cold and muted contributions expertly controlled and matched by suitable lighting in the hall. The woodwind gave heartfelt, soulful contributions, as did the orchestra leader, violinist Sharon Roffman, and these led to thrills and spills as the RSNO powered through the faster sections, urged on by Thomas Søndergård.

Polska-scotland

Nicola Benedetti was the soloist in Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto no.1, a piece she started to play at the age of 16. Having lived with it for approximately the same length of time, she noted the increased popularity of the piece – and talked through how conductor Sondergaard’s vision of the music was slower than hers, giving her a renewed perspective.

The violin emerged rather magically from the brief but colourful orchestral introduction and dominated almost throughout, rich of tone and with extremely secure intonation. The vivid colours were an overriding feature of this performance, Søndergård achieving a sound balance between soloist and orchestra, but within the ensemble he probed the deeper shades of Szymanowski’s lyrical writing. Benedetti was passionate and driven, the searing high notes carrying easily above the orchestra and then doing their own work in ardent outpouring of the complex cadenza. Søndergård gave the piece more room than it normally receives, but this was to its benefit – and the capricious ending was beautifully weighted.

First violinist Jane Reid then recounted a Polish tour for the orchestra in 1978, which opened with Panufnik’s Sinfonia Sacra, receiving its first performance in the country. It was a daring choice from conductor Sir Alexander Gibson, given the composer’s departure for London in 1954, but Reid’s vivid account spoke of tears in the Warsaw audience. Indeed, it is hard to understand why the piece is not performed more today – given the Weinberg revival of late, the music of Panufnik is just as deserving.

This performance from the RSNO was intensely moving. The powerful opening fanfares of Vision I from the brass were razor sharp, and cut to an equally heartfelt Vision II from the strings, icy cold music of solemn countenance. This was blown apart by Vision III, where driven percussion gave way to onrushing strings the surging brass in music of dissonance and disquiet. The contrast with the final Hymn was even greater, the strings united again in a cold chorale, but gradually the music thawed and grew in power.

Sondergård expertly marshalled this section and its steady build, taking a broad tempo but controlling the unwavering intensity of Panufnik’s writing. The brass fanfares were resolute, but the final statement of the hymn had great resolve, an ultimately triumphant end – even if the dissonances remained, defiant to the finish.

This was a superb start to a season which promises much, with works to come from Lutosławski, Bacewicz and more Szymanowski – Nicola Benedetti will return to play his Violin Concerto no.2. On this evidence, all the online concerts are highly recommended.

You can watch the concert on the Royal Scottish National Orchestra website here

For more information on the Royal Scottish National Orchestra digital season, you can visit their website here