MIECZYSLAW WEINBERG: Requiem – Elena Kelessidi, soprano/ Wiener Sangerknaben/ Prague Philharmonic Choir/ Wiener Symphoniker/ Vladimir Fedoseyev – Neos multichannel SACD 11127, 60:46 [Distr. by Naxos] ***:
Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996) is a Warsaw-born composer of Jewish descent who ended up, of all places, in Moscow when he married in 1943. He was friend of the inner circle of Shostakovich and the composer himself, who said that Weinberg was “one of the excellent composers of our time.” His music is certainly well-constructed, though one still wonders how a man like him, who was arrested in 1953 and had his life saved only because of the death of the monster Stalin, could remain in the Soviet Union until his death in 1996.
Maybe it’s this aspect of survival at all costs that pervades his music, and especially his Requiem. Being Jewish you would not expect a typical requiem-structure, as you would not (and didn’t get) of Brahms, for instance. And that proves the case here—instead, we get six movements based on poetry from various sources, titled “Bread and Iron” (Dmitri Kedrin), “And Then…” (Federico Garcia Lorca), “Then will Come Soft Rains” (Sara Teasdale), “Hiroshima Five-Line” (Munetoshi Fukagawa), and “People Walked…” (Federico Garcia Lorca), and “Sow the Seed” (Mikhail Dudin). Unbelievably, Neos has not seen fit to include the texts of any of these, making full comprehension of this Requiem almost impossible—I don’t understand the thinking behind this! Also unfortunate is the undoubted fact that the music itself just doesn’t carry the day in and of itself; it is so unrelentingly pathetic and morose that we cannot come to an understanding of it without knowing more about what inspired it, and all of that is found in the texts. As is we hear snippets of some very moving and at times inspiring music that cries out for explanation, needing to know what in the world the soprano is telling us or, what is making the wistful boys choir sound so quiet and reflective. Without this I am afraid a real judgment on the music cannot occur. I like much of it and want to know more, but I also cannot say I will be begging to hear it again.
Performances are outstanding, the Vienna Boys’ Choir and Prague Philharmonic Choir on top of everything, and the Vienna Symphony sounding every bit as good as their crosstown rivals. The surround sound is also superb, especially for a live recording. This is the third volume in Neos’s ongoing Weinberg series, and there will be more.
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