Weinberg’s little gem steal the show

CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★★

As Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s time with the CBSO draws to a close, she deserves our thanks for championing the music of Mieczysław Weinberg. In 2018 Mirga conducted the UK premiere of Weinberg’s powerful Symphony No.21, a threnody for victims of the Holocaust. It’s the pinnacle of her work with the CBSO and was followed by an equally impressive award-winning recording of the symphony. Weinberg, the Polish-born Jewish composer who fled the Nazis to Soviet Russia, was a prolific writer in many types and forms from the profound to the charmingly lightweight. The four-movement Sinfonietta No.1 Op.46 begins in the most undemanding way, The heavily-accented thumpingly rumbustious Allegro, reeking of circus sawdust and vaudeville greasepaint, sounds like its © Shostakovich (Keep the Commissars Happy Ltd.) Weinberg, like his musical mentor, knew how to dissimulate, and succeeding movements draw on the folk music of his homeland and Jewish heritage. The Lento is an achingly beautiful lament for the land – and the family –  he lost. The large string section – the ironic “little symphony” tag does not refer to size – sighed, shivered and keened sorrowfully and there were touching contributions from Oliver Janes (clarinet) and guest first horn (Christopher Gough) and oboe (Alex Hilton). If this was Yiddish funeral klezmer music the Allegretto was a joyous, slightly tipsy wedding celebration. Mirga wheedled and cajoled colour and juicy inflexions from the whole orchestra – this little musical gem stole the show.

The programmer notes were keen to emphasize that Schumann’s Piano Concerto is not the typical adversarial battle between soloist and orchestra. True, up to a point, but neither is it merely a dewy-eyed tete-a-tete between lovers Robert and Clara either. Kirill Gerstein’s excellent performance finely balanced Schumann’s flowing gossamer poetry with muscular keenly-accented playing – there was nothing effete about his opening flourish. The performance was illuminated by the conversational give-and-take between soloist and orchestra with the CBSO’s wind section at its sweetest most characterful best. I’d love to hear a performance of Prokofiev’s complete ballet score of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in the concert hall. I won’t hold my breath. Meanwhile this selection of ten dances, drawn from the three suites Prokofiev made, was a satisfying highlight reel under Mirga’s baton. Deliciously romantic at times, the giddy love-at-a-glance ‘Balcony Scene’, sharply-pointed dance rhythms – for the ‘Antilles Girls’ and ‘Five Couples’ – and musically ferocious confrontations between Capulets and Montagues made for a thrilling concert second half.

Norman Stinchcombe

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