CBSO Weinberg review


Gidon Kremer: Weinberg's Violin Concerto
CBSO at Symphony Hall
Last November the CBSO's current artist-in-residence Gidon Kremer introduced Birmingham to the music of Mieczysław Weinberg. Now, in the centenary of his birth, we are being given further opportunities to savour a composer who has until now been virtually unknown in the UK, unlike his other Russian contemporaries such as Shostakovich.
A first-time listener to Weinberg's 1959 Violin Concerto in G minor might well have been reminded of Shostakovich, or even Prokofiev, in the biting rhythms of the opening Allegro. But Kremer's compelling performance, where technical demands were always subsumed by the concerto's poetry and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla's nuanced orchestral support, soon transcended its initial energy to embrace an air of tragic loss.
In the second movement, for example, Kremer's ghostly decorative counterpoints acted as stark contrast to the orchestra's richly-expressed anguish, its themes gradually unwinding into mere wisps of melody that, in the Adagio, coalesced to form a poignant song of sadness, which Kremer 'sang' with exquisite tonal beauty and Mirga gave space to breathe and colour with the most delicate woodwind highlights.
Even the concluding Allegro risoluto seemed as much about the orchestra as soloist, its martial strutting (such a typical Soviet musical trope of the period) only part of the movement's structure, which was swept aside at the end in a quiet, reflective coda that recalled all the gentle humanity and sadness of what had gone before.
After the interval we heard the UK premiere of Weinberg's Suite No. 4 culled from his 1962 ballet The Golden Key. If nothing else it showed just how versatile Soviet composers of the day had to be, and for Mirga and the CBSO offered a cornucopia of orchestral brilliance, catchy tunes and solos at every turn – bassoonist Nikolaj Henriques' poodle dance was a particular joy – delivered with terrific panache.
Schubert before and after these two chalk-and-cheese works (the rarely-heard Polonaise for violin and orchestra – directed and played by Kremer with oodles of charm – and Mirga conducting the Unfinished Symphony) provided even more contrasts in what was, indeed, a very special evening.
David Hart

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