CBSO review

UK PREMIERE OF WEINBERG'S FINAL SYMPHONY

CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★★

This was the perfect pairing – the final symphonies of Mieczysław Weinberg, receiving its UK premiere, and that of his musical mentor Dmitri Shostakovich. Both are death-haunted works replete with musical quotation and self-quotation but while Shostakovich's Symphony No.15 is tantalisingly elusive, Weinberg's No.21 combines personal anguish with public grief, dedicated to the Nazi victims of Warsaw's Jewish ghetto. It's a big, bold work, the six sections of it's single movement lasting nearly an hour using around 100 players. The imposing opening funereal Largo suggests this will be an implacable granite work but throughout the symphony Weinberg spotlights instruments, as if individual voices from the ghetto step forward to speak to us. A violin, normally the orchestral leader but here soloist Gidon Kremer, narrates wistfully; a pianist dreamily recalls Chopin's Ballade No. 1 in G minor; Oliver Janes' clarinet meditates sorrowfully and the gruff recitativo bass solo suggests an old man's wry reminiscences. There is even a little light in the gloom as a Klezmer band plays – life goes on – and the symphony ends with the human voice, a soaring wordless soprano (Maria Makeeva). The playing of the CBSO, and members of Kremer's Kremerata Baltica, was (in both works) magnificent and superbly marshalled by music director Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. My only reservation was her decision to divide the soprano's part with the excellent boy treble Freddie Jemison. I can find no warrant for this but unlike Gražinytė-Tyla's disastrous use of trebles in Mahler's fourth symphony, it worked – the ghetto's children gained their voice.

Norman Stinchcombe

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