--> original review

The music of Mieczysław Weinberg is now well established on record. This release brings us the third recording of his Flute Concerto No. 1, and the second of No. 2. Both are short works that feature a central Largo flanked by faster movements. The First (from 1961) is the perkier. The Second (from 1987) is softer grained with a memorable finale, possibly because it quotes pre-existing music by Bach and Gluck. Unexpectedly, it concludes with a subdued coda.

A performance of No. 1 by Russian flutist Alexander Korneyev, with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra under Rudolf Barshai, may be found on a Melodiya disc that is hard to track down, and very costly if you do. (The program’s big plus is the inclusion of Rostropovich in Weinberg’s Cello Concerto.) A more recent version, coupled with the recorded premiere of No. 2, appears on a Chandos disc played by Anders Jonhäll, with Thord Svedlund conducting the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. There the couplings are Weinberg’s late Clarinet Concerto and early Fantasy for Cello and Orchestra. The Chandos disc was highly recommended by Barry Brenesal in Fanfare 32:3.

The Polish performances on this new release are brighter than those of their Swedish counterparts, not only in terms of articulation but also in the sound, which is comparatively toppy. In the high-lying first movement of No. 1, Styczeń’s flute sounds positively piccolo-esque. She and the Polish Chamber Orchestra bring an air of breezy joie de vivre to these concertos, even when adopting slower tempos than Jonhäll and Svedlund.

The two accompanying works are more substantial than might appear from their titles. The 12 Miniatures are a 1983 transcription for string orchestra of a Partita for Flute and Piano, written 38 years earlier when the war had just finished and the young composer was looking forward to a peaceful future. (That did not quite happen, thanks to Stalin.) The work is made up mostly of dances—waltzes, a burlesque, a barcarolle and so on—with a plangent undertone. Rather as with Britten’s Lachrymae, the arrangement for strings adds emotional punch (especially in the seventh piece, “Ode,” where the flute is silent until the very end), and Weinberg explores varied and interesting string sonorities. A gentle Pastorale provides an intimate close to this attractive work. The Trio for Flute, Viola, and Harp (1979) was written for ensembles who play Debussy’s well-known sonata, but is more introverted than French works in that medium. Again the composer takes the opportunity to explore sparse textures. The harp’s entry in the second movement is deliciously spooky. Later, Weinberg gets the instrument to imitate a guitar. Weinberg’s trio is by no means Debussy-lite.

Styczeń, a flutist in her mid-20s, plays with charm and fine control throughout, matched in the trio by the excellent harpist and violist. The brisk, incisive playing of the Polish Chamber Orchestra helps to make this disc a must for lovers of the composer.

Phillip Scott

<< back