Concertino for cello and string orchestra op. 43 bis (1948)
Fantasy for cello and orchestra op. 52 (1951-53)
Chamber Symphony n°4 op. 153 (1992)
19.00 About Weinberg – Discussion with Katarzyna Naliwajek and Nicolas Bacri
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In the Concertino op 43 bis and the Fantasy op 52, Weinberg shows a keen understanding of concertante writing and at the same time an intimate mastery of the cello’s expressive voice. Although composed during a very somber period in Weinberg’s life, the music once again rises up and eludes the weight of the situation at that time.
Chamber Symphony No. 4 is Weinberg’s last completed work. A music often restrained, where the clarinet, like a messenger, proclaims one last time that music transcends destiny.
Although a pianist, Weinberg has always written remarkably well for stringed instruments, perhaps due to the fact that he spent his early years beside his father, a violinist and head of a theater orchestra in Warsaw. The cello plays a major role in his work: 5 pieces for solo cello, two sonatas with piano, and three concertante pieces.
The year 1948 marked the beginning of a new painful period in Weinberg’s life. His father-in-law, Jewish actor Solomon Mikhoels, was murdered on Stalin’s order in January, and close surveillance of the Weinberg family followed until Weinberg’s imprisonment in 1953. In addition, an “anti-formalism” campaign that lasted until Stalin’s death affected many Russian artists, and Weinberg was no exception. It is in this context that Weinberg composed the Concertino op 43 bis. The Adagio consists of a long lamentation sustained very soberly by the orchestra. The Moderato espressivo asserts itself as an evocation of an ancestral Jewish and perhaps Uzbek dance, also cited in the last movement of Khatchaturian’s trio for violin, clarinet and piano: is it an evocation of Tashkent, where Weinberg met his future wife Natalya Vivsi-Mikhoels? The 3rd movement, Allegro vivace, spotlights the virtuosity of the soloist, the orchestra responding to the daring exploits of the cello. The final Adagio opens with a cadenza that announces the return of the melody of the first movement, with the violins engaging in a dialogue with the soloist. The omnipresence of Jewish music idioms is undoubtedly a reaction to the murder of his father-in-law 7 months before the date of the composition of this work. Many elements of the Concertino op 43 bis are included in the Concerto, a more developed version premiered in 1957 by Rostropovitch. The manuscript was recently discovered, and it seems certain that the version with chamber orchestra is an original and completed work.
The Fantaisie op 52 was written during this same obscure period. Weinberg probably destroyed some of the sections, or perhaps they were submitted to the authority and not returned. The remaining scores we have left are entitled Sinfonietta, Sonatine, Rhapsody, Airs Polonais, Ouverture de Fête…: Weinberg had to meet the official demands without affecting the quality of the music! Few of them were premiered before Stalin’s death. Little is known about the Fantasie op 52, whose writing was spread over two years, which is rare for Weinberg (the Concertino op 43 bis was written in four days). In a single movement with successive sections, the work is characterized by its arched structure – acceleration towards an energetic dance and a broad cadenza, then progressive slowing-down – by its themes from different folklore – which commentators on Weinberg’s music have not yet catalogued – and by an unusual instrumentation which sees a trumpet, a flute and three horns joining the strings.
In the last 10 years of his life, Weinberg wrote 4 symphonies for small ensembles, which he called “Chamber Symphonies”. This title does not really seem justified by the small size, already found in symphonies 2, 7 and 10, but rather by the more relaxed and accessible language that distinguishes them from the symphonies 20 and 21 which are contemporary to them. For the first three, Weinberg transcribes, sometimes consistently or with movements added respectively, his 2nd, 3rd and 5th quartets, undoubtedly influenced by the success of Rudolf Barshai’s transcriptions of certain Shostakovich quartets, for string ensembles. The Chamber Symphony No. 4, the last work completed by Weinberg, is in one movement divided into 4 sections. Without being tied to any particular work, it begins with a poignant passage from his opera “Le Portrait” before developing the second theme of the 17th quartet. More than ever, Weinberg draws from this “great kettle in which all my themes coexist…” Throughout the work, the clarinet intervenes, interrupts the orchestra, dialogues with the violin or cello solos, and sometimes emerges from the orchestral mass… Perhaps it is the composer’s voice that gives us a final commentary on a life with an extraordinary destiny.