Compositions: Symphonies No 2 and No 21 (Kaddish)
Performers: Gidon Kremer v, City of Birmingham SO, Kremerata Baltica/Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla
Catalogue Number: DG 4836566 (2CD)
Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996) has finally made it, with a double-CD issue of two of his symphonies from Deutsche Grammophon no less. So too has young Lithuanian conductor Mirga Gražintye˙-Tyla, who was appointed Chief Conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2016 and is contracted until 2021. Conducting that orchestra in the Symphony No 21, and Gidon Kremer’s string ensemble Kremerata Baltica in the Second Symphony, Gražinytė-Tyla produces performances of gripping expressivity.
Weinberg’s Symphony No 2 (1946) was written three years after he arrived in Moscow from Poland, escaping the Nazis only to later fall foul of anti-Semitic Soviet authorities. This 35-minute work for strings gives credence to the idea that the influence between Weinberg and his friend Shostakovich went both ways. It begins with rich melodic statements but, typically, the composer soon pares back the texture to take us to a personal, intimate place of barely concealed pain (in the Adagio). The final Allegretto is upbeat, with subtle suggestions of Jewish music in some of its rhythms.
The 21st, subtitled “Kaddish”, comes from the end of the composer’s life: Gražintye˙-Tyla calls it his “swan song”. This entire work explores the private space hinted at in the earlier symphony. Notable moments include a desolate memory of
a Jewish folk dance (solo violin over a simple harp accompaniment) at 11’45” into the long opening Largo, a brief klezmer clarinet solo closing the third movement, and a plaintive arioso for solo soprano in the mournful final Lento. It doesn’t hurt to have Gidon Kremer playing the violin part, while Gražintye˙-Tyla (whose background is choral) sings the soprano solo herself, reinforcing the symphonic coda’s eerie, otherworldly feel. This work is so deeply personal and poignant; the listener is quite unnerved by the end. Sound is spacious and clear, and both performances are exceptional.