MIECZYSLAW WEINBERG: Symphony No. 2 for String Orchestra (1945-6); Chamber Symphony No. 2 for String Orchestra & Timpani (1987) – Umea Symphony Orchestra/Thord Svedlund – Alto 1037 [Distr. by Koch] ****:

Mieczyslaw Weinberg (also spelled Vainberg) was born in Poland but escaped to Russia when it was invaded in 1939. Shostakovich invited him to Moscow in 1943 after receiving the score of Weinberg’s First Symphony. He remained there until his death in 1996. Like his colleague Shostakovich, he wrote in many genres but primarily is known for his symphonies and string quartets. His works mirror Shostakovich’s oeuvre, including angular melodic lines and marches, but his works have a more outgoing, positive tone. Anyone who loves Shostakovich will enjoy exploring his works.

Weinberg’s Symphony No. 2, scored for string orchestra, is so melodically proficient that the Russian musicologist, Lyudmila Nikitina likened it to “Schubert’s lyricism with its melodic and rhythmic naturalism, its distinctive and unexpected harmonic transformations.” The first movement has its melodic and dramatic moments; the second movement expresses a sorrowful and meditative sadness that transforms into a darker, Shostakovian angst. The third movement allegretto gives us the variety of this composer’s world: beginning with a happy pizzicato, the composer transitions to a dramatic and almost hysterical middle section; repeats another pizzicato and ends in a quietly wistful manner. This is an immediately accessible work, stunningly recorded.

His Chamber Symphony No. 2, written in 1987 for string orchestra and timpani, is written in a more advanced but accessible idiom. The first movement is an energetic scherzo with the timpani providing rhythmic underpinning. This gives way to a gently lyrical theme that develops and merges with the timpani, ending quietly. The second movement is a waltzing scherzo with a mocking and droll emotional undertone. The last movement is a lengthy, majestic andante that transitions into lyrical resignation and then to a tranquil acceptance, ending with a shocking timpanic burst. It’s an intriguing work, again stunningly recorded.

The Umea Symphony and conductor Thord Svedlund  perform these works with accuracy and panache and the recording, made in a Swedish high school, is first class. This is a disc for audiophiles who want to hear something accessible and new from the twentieth century. If you like this CD, try the Chandos’ recording (CHSA 5064) of four Weinberg concertos – they’re gorgeous.

— Robert Moon