Recommended CDs

Reviews of Weinberg CD Recordings

Recommended CDs

Reviews of Weinberg CD Recordings

To date, over 220 recordings have been released on CD, DVD and other formats containing one or more Weinberg compositions, in total encompassing nearly all the major orchestral and instrumental works. This page provides recommendations and brief reviews for a subset of these recordings, which form a small must-have collection for anyone interested in Weinberg's music.

The selection is made on the basis of the following criteria: (1) overall artistic excellence: the most subjective criterion, which is made more objective by considering what makes an “ideal” Weinberg interpretation, outlined further below; (2) availability: recently available CD recordings are chosen over out-of-print ones whenever possible, though several recordings that are only available (internationally) as high-quality FLAC file downloads (e.g., via Presto Music (Classical)) or on streaming services (e.g. via Spotify) are included; (3) selection of works: considering only all-Weinberg programs, recordings containing major works are given preference; (4) sound quality; and finally, (5) variety: focusing on the widest range of musicians where appropriate, such that when all other factors are equal, a recording by a musician or ensemble not listed on other recordings is selected;

The recording recommendations and reviews are divided into Core and Extra categories – explained in the relevant page sections – and proceed within these categories according to the order of the works list on the Music page, namely: I.1 Chamber and Solo Instrumental Works; I.2 Orchestral Works, with I.2.1 Symphonies followed by I.2.2 Concertos; and finally Vocal Works (V.1 – V.2). Reviews focus mainly on high-level interpretative qualities, without dwelling on technical details.

As a closing remark to this prelude, it should be noted that the fact there is choice among Weinberg recordings is in itself fortuitous; only a decade ago the situation was different. Therefore, one can only be grateful to all musicians who have partaken in the ongoing, and indeed ever-increasing, Weinberg revival, allowing (in the words of the Arcadia Quartet) Mieczysław Weinberg [to] take his rightful place in the history of music. While some interpretations are more successful than others, most of the aforementioned releases deserve at least one hearing, if not more; hence the following recommendations should be seen as a guide only and not as a definitive or exclusive list, which in any case would not be plausible, regardless of the expertise of the music critics at hand.

What makes an ideal Weinberg interpretation?

What makes an ideal Weinberg interpretation?

Even the most outstanding music requires a correspondingly masterful interpretation to reach and kindle a listener's heart and mind. In some cases, a masterful interpretation can reach such artistic heights that it becomes ideal – an image of the music reflected in the composer's mind, allowing that music's mental inwardness, as the German philosopher Hegel writes, to find full utterance in tones for the heart with its whole gamut of feelings. The notion of an ideal interpretation of a classical composition is as alluring as it is elusive. First of all, an ideal interpretation of a given composer's work must be unique to both the work and the composer; i.e. it is not possible to perform Bach exactly like Zelenka, or Schubert exactly like Beethoven, or Prokofiev exactly like Martinů. Likewise, one piece and even a movement of a piece cannot be performed like another piece; each creates its own semantic context, within which an interpretation runs its course. Multiple ideal interpretations are no doubt possible, although one can argue they ultimately merge into a single one, like lines of vision that converge into a unitary point in the infinitely far horizon. While defining an ideal interpretation per se, as well as for the music of Weinberg in particular, is beyond the scope of these modest, online pages, it seems reasonable to ask: what are some of the qualities of an “ideal” interpretation of Weinberg's music? In determining an answer to this question, it seems instructive to consider the qualities of the music on one hand (see for this, for example, the Music page on this website) and Weinberg's own interpretations, on the other. Fortunately, unlike the qualities of Bach's playing, which will always remain a mystery – along with the “ideal” tempi, dynamics, phrasing, etc. of Baroque music more generally – we can hear Weinberg playing Weinberg and from this draw numerous invaluable conclusions. A sensitive listener can discern the following qualities in Weinberg's playing, which (unsurprisingly) are also present in the music itself: grace, balance and clarity in articulation; a keen sense of melodic line; complete lack of mannerism, over-emphasis or crudeness; technical assuredness; and rhythmic sensitivity. Weinberg's tempi tend to be brisk in faster movements, but never rushed. It is an approach that places pre-eminent emphasis on musicality, delicate intelligence and emotional balance, while keeping the music natural and alive. Without doubt, these same qualities can also be said to typify an “ideal” Weinberg interpretation. This is in accord with Lyudmila Nikitina's assessment that Classical clarity in writing is a quality inherent in all of Weinberg's works, regardless of the genre and time of creation. This is achieved through [...] superlative technical skill and rationality; yet the music remains natural and heartfelt.

Core Recordings

Core Recordings

The core set of recordings are carefully selected for first-time listeners, containing major works – across different genres – presented in excellent sound by a wide variety of musicians, with current availability, and in performances that, to the extent possible, carry the qualities of an ideal Weinberg interpretation. In other words, the core set aims to represent Weinberg at his best and (generally) most approachable. Duplication of works across the chosen recordings has also been minimized, which, along with the variety criterion, has meant some recordings that would otherwise appear as core appear in the next section as extra recordings instead. This should not be seen, however, as diminishing the value or quality of those recordings, since both categories of recordings are evaluated according to the same criteria. In the reviews, comparisons are made with alternatives where appropriate, with some of these alternatives also recommended as extras later on. For commentary on a selection of the recorded works, please see the commentary section of the Music page.

Sonatas for Piano Nos. 4, 5 & 6 (Opp. 56, 58, 73)

Divine Art DDA25107, Russian Piano Music Series, Vol. 10
UK, 2012

Review: Murray McLachlan originally recorded all of Weinberg's piano sonatas for Olympia in the mid-1990's, and these two recordings – which were unavailable for a long time – were re-released on Divine Art in the early 2010s. McLachlan's interpretations are superlative: intelligent, rhythmically sensitive, and completely sympathetic to Weinberg's pianistic idiom. In comparison, under Allison Brewster-Franzetti's hands Weinberg's sonatas sound livid. Elisaveta Blumina brings a strong sense of poetry in her interpretations on CPO; however, Weinberg's lyricism is not of the Romantic type (see the Further Reading page), and Blumina's shaped and sometimes sustained phrases have a tendency to blur the poise and neo-classical tendencies of the music, even though the playing is never less than heartfelt. As one reviewer has already noted, later attempts to interpret a musical creation do not always supplant earlier ones, and despite the different approaches of Elisaveta Blumina and Allison Brewster-Franzetti, it is Murray McLachlan's renditions from the 90's that are the must-have ones – with Elisaveta Blumina's versions of the 1st, 2nd and 4th sonatas as good alternatives for those interested in seeing another perspective on the music.

Sonatas for Cello Solo Nos. 2, 3 & 4 (Opp. 86, 106, 140)

Naxos 8572281
Germany, 2011

Review: Josef Feigelson's renditions on Naxos of Weinberg's three late towering works for solo cello is another re-release of an older Olympia recording from the mid 1990s. To date, Feigelson's exceptional insight into these pieces and his ability to convey their profound emotions remains unparalleled.

Sonatas for Violin and Piano Nos. 4 & 5 (Opp. 39, 53)

CPO cpo-777-4562
Germany, 2009

Review: Weinberg's 4th and 5th violin sonatas are highly approachable, lyrical, yet deeply serious works that perfectly exemplify the early years of his mature style; it is no surprise, therefore, that they have been recorded numerous times. Different recordings have different merits and each one attempts to shed a different light on the works. Among these many performances, however, the one that truly stands out is by Stefan and Andreas Kirpal on CPO. Both musicians seem to have unparalleled insight into the music, and play with such exceptional sensitivity, understanding, nuance and depth, that the only way of describing the result is “eminently natural”, indeed, in many ways ideal. No other interpretation of these two violin sonatas reaches the same interpretative heights – the Diapson d'Or which this CD received is well-deserved.

Sonatas for Cello and Piano Nos. 1 & 2, Sonata for Cello Solo No. 1 (Opp. 21, 63, 72)

Dux DUX1545
Poland, 2019

Review: Wojciech Fudala and Michal Rot present emotionally charged accounts of Weinberg's two accompanied cello sonatas on the Polish label Dux. Both sonatas are eminently accessible, with the second being perhaps one of Weinberg's most poetically-lyrical works. The performance compares very well to that of Alla Vasilieva and Weinberg himself on the piano, which is the long out-of-print (and in some sense unsurpassable) benchmark recording for these two pieces; indeed Fudala's delicate, soulful tone, recorded in excellent sound, is more than a match for Vasilieva. In terms of the remaining pieces on the CD, Weinberg's first solo cello sonata receives a passionate reading that is comparable to Josef Feigelson's interpretation on Naxos, though with slightly different emphases throughout. The lullaby for piano which rounds off the program (Weinberg's very first opus number) is a charming addition from the composer's pre-war Polish, neo-impressionistic period, performed very sensitively by Rot. An earlier CD recording on BIS with Alexander Chaushian on cello and Yevgeny Sudbin on piano is decent with respect to the accompanied sonatas, though the pair have a tendency to occasionally drag out the music. Dmitry Yablonsky and Hsin-Ni Liu's rendition on Naxos is likewise adequate, though Liu's accompaniment is not as tight as it can be. Neither recording reaches the poetry and deep emotional involvement of Fudala and Rot.

Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, 12 Miniatures for Flute and Piano, Sonata for Bassoon Solo, Trio for Flute, Viola and Harp (Opp. 28, 29, 133, 137)

CPO 777630-2
Germany, 2012

Review: This imaginative program combines the early clarinet sonata and flute miniatures, containing some of Weinberg's most delightful music, with the late chamber works for wind instruments, which are among the composer's most meditative pieces. It is performed superlatively in every way by Elisaveta Blumina and colleagues. In the bassoon solo sonata, Mathias Baier not only surmounts all the technical complexities with ease, but successfully projects the cool, mysterious beauty of the work that seems to stand up to infinitely many listenings, each one revealing new details; but then, so does the trio for flute, viola and harp, and the clarinet sonata, and... The recording is a real treasure.

Piano Quintet (Op. 18)

Sony 19075937152
Germany, 2019

Review: Weinberg's piano quintet from 1944 – a work densely impregnated with ideas – is an early masterpiece of the genre, alongside Shostakovich's single quintet from 1940 and Martinů's two piano quintets from the 1930s. In contrast to these other works, which are, in a sense, stylistically homogeneous, Weinberg's quintet amalgamates a wide variety of stylistic traits to narrate its sprawling, and ultimately unfinished, story. The works's simultaneous density and variety is no doubt one reason why it has been so popular with musicians and so often recorded, both alongside other works from Weinberg and in combination with Shostakovich's quintet. Of these many, excellent performances, one of the most lucid and compelling is by Olga Scheps and the Kuss Quartet on Sony. While the recording tantalizingly leaves room for more pieces (some of Weinberg's piano music or a sonata would have been a welcome addition to a 45-minute CD), the refined playing of the musicians makes up for the short timing. Of special note is the sublime mood which the Kuss Quartet conjures in the central slow movement, and the clear, balanced, and highly intelligent playing by Scheps throughout. Overall, the musicians manage to recreate the clarity and coherence of the benchmark Soviet-era recording with the Borodin Quartet and Weinberg at the piano, while placing their own unique interpretative touches.

String Quartets Nos. 4 & 16 [Vol. 1]; Nos. 6, 8 & 15 [Vol. 3]; Nos. 5, 9 & 14 [Vol. 4] (Opp. 20, 27, 35, 66, 80, 122, 124, 129)

CPO 7773132, 7773932, 7773942, 777913-2 [box-set]
Germany, 2007 – 2009, 2014

Review: Like the symphonies, Weinberg's string quartets span his whole career and, therefore, present both performers and listeners with music of tremendous variety (within Weinberg's stylistic idiom, of course). Perhaps for this reason, it is not entirely reasonable to expect that a single ensemble tackling the whole cycle of 17 quartets – a most commendable undertaking, in all respects – will be equally successful across every single piece. The Belgian Danel Quartet was the first to tackle the whole series, making many world premiere recordings along the way. While their interpretations are never less than devoted (Marc Danel has candidly spoken about how the members of the quartet had to copy parts by hand from the originals, and wrestled for concert performances of the music in days when Weinberg's name was hardly known), the most successful interpretations are of quartets Nos. 4, 5 and 6 (from Weinberg's early mature period); Nos. 8 and 9, from Weinberg's middle period; and Nos. 14, 15 and 16, from Weinberg's late period. The last three of these quartets use a somewhat more modernistic palette and are less approachable on first listening, but soon reveal their beauty. In these three late quartets in particular (14, 15, 16), the performances by the Danel Quartet are simply superb. Given that most of the aforementioned quartets were world premiere recordings, one wonders whether the absence of any prior examples forced the ensemble to explore the music's depths and search for purer interpretations, as opposed to attempting to differentiate themselves from any predecessors. (As an aside, at present CPO only offers the complete cycle as a box-set, and this too can be recommended, but it is Vols. 1, 3 and 4 within the set that receive full recommendation).
In terms of alternatives, there are currently two main contenders: the Silesian Quartet's complete cycle on Accord, and the Arcadia Quartet's ongoing series on Chandos. With respect to the former, the Polish ensemble provides spirited, lucid and tightly-knit readings, captured in superlative sound (indeed, Accord's sound engineering is noteworthy among all releases for its naturality and ambience); it is all the more regretful, therefore, that the ensemble often seeks to over-project what they see as moments of anguish and despair, thereby eliding the music's transcendence, solace and, at least in some of these moments, meaning. To take just one example, in the 16th quartet (dedicated to Weinberg's sister, Esther) the Silesians bring out the complex, driving rhythms of the first movement with great clarity, but completely miss to project the Jewish folk-element in the music, its striving and soulfulness, which the Danel's do to great effect. In the slow movement, the Silesian Quartet conjures up an atmosphere of sadness and desolation, not one of devotional introspection, as the Danel Quartet does. Despite this, the Silesians' renditions of the 7th and 10th quartets especially (Vols. 1 and 2 of the series) – though still subject to some mild criticism – are overall very good, and more successful than the Danel Quartet's counterparts.
The approach taken by the Arcadia Quartet is almost the exact opposite of that taken by the Silesian Quartet: their interpretations are warm and overtly lyrical, strongly emphasizing the folk elements where possible, while searching for hidden musical depths. Sometimes this softer approach works; but not always – e.g. in the third movement of the 7th quartet, where the diffusion of lines results in a lack of coherence. Moreover, the overt, neo-romantic warmth which the Arcadia Quartet brings often supersedes something of the finely etched sublimity of the music (e.g. in the slow movement of the 11th quartet). Nevertheless, the care with which the ensemble palpably seeks to interpret Weinberg deserves admiration.

Sonata for Violin Solo No. 3, String Trio, Sonatina for Violin and Piano [CD1]; Violin Concertino, Symphony No. 10 [CD2] (Opp. 126, 48, 46, 42, 98)

ECM 4810669
Germany, 2014

Review: This recording marked Gidon Kremer's first exploration of Weinberg's music on ECM, and it is by all accounts excellent. Both chamber and orchestral works are included in a varied program spanning most of Weinberg's career. All pieces are performed extremely well, with the interpretation of Symphony No. 10 being a special highlight. With respect to this work in particular, Gidon Kremer and the Kremerata Baltica compare very favourably to the benchmark Soviet-era recording with Rudolf Barshai conducting the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, controlling the challenging interplay between instrumental interludes and orchestral narratives, as well as the frenzied polyphony in the final movement. Of alternative recordings, the rendition of the same symphony by Anna Duczmal-Mróz and the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra of Polish Radio on CPO is not as recommendable, not least due to the choice of drawn-out tempi. This is quite regrettable, since Anna Duczmal-Mróz's interpretations of Weinberg with the ACOPR are generally outstanding (see recommendations further below). The same comment applies to the otherwise heartfelt performance of Weinberg's Op. 42 concertino on the same CPO release (this time conducted by Agniezka Duczmal-Mróz) – the significantly slower tempi drag the music down. Unique to the CPO disc is a performance of Weinberg's Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes Op. 47/3 by Ewelina Nowicka, in an orchestral reconstruction by the violinist herself.

Symphonies No. 2 & 7 (Opp. 30, 81)

Dux DUX1631
Poland, 2020

Review: Weinberg's 7th symphony has received several excellent recordings, including a Soviet-era (1967) account by Rudolf Barshai, which is still definitive in many ways. Of the modern recorded versions, the one on Dux with Anna Duczmal-Mróz conducting the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra of Polish Radio is especially outstanding. Besides comparing very well with Barshai's rendition, the latter recording also includes Weinberg's 2nd symphony – also for strings – which is one of his best (early) symphonic works. Particularly notable is how Duczmal-Mróz manages to deftly draw colour from the sonic innovations which Weinberg introduces into the 7th symphony's final movement, though without over-emphasis. This alone makes the recording not just a good first choice, but an insightful alternative to its predecessors. In terms of alternatives, the recording on Chandos with Thord Svedlund conducting the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra shares similar interpretative features, and occasionally makes a stronger case in terms of tempi – allowing, for example, the painful string writing in the symphony's 4th movement to be projected more accurately; however, the Chandos recording combines the 7th symphony with Weinberg's 1st, which, written very early in his career, is ultimately not one of his masterpieces in the genre and is mainly of historical interest. In terms of other alternatives, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla's approach to the 7th symphony, which utilizes considerably slower tempi throughout, at first appears to emphasize the lyrical side of the work; however, this approach loses the rhythmic drive, energy and sharpness that characterizes much of the symphony (anyone wishing to “see” this can do so in the corresponding artwork of Annael at the bottom of the Music page). While Gražinytė-Tyla's leisurely tempi can, on occasion, have merit, they ultimately draw out and dilapidate the outlines of the individual movements, in opposition to the symphony's overall neo-classical aesthetic. Another downside of the DG recording is the seemingly distant placement of the harpsichord. In the Dux recording, the harpsichord is placed up-front and is clearly (perhaps even too clearly) audible; yet the use of a harpsichord is one of the distinct features of this symphony, hence its accentuation is more than justified.

Symphony No. 4, Sinfonietta No. 2, Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes (Opp. 61, 74, 47/1) [Vol. 2]; Symphony No. 5, Sinfonietta No. 1 (Opp. 76, 41) [Vol. 1]

Chandos CHAN10237 (Vol. 2), CHAN10128 (Vol. 1)
UK, 2004, 2003

Review: The 4th and 5th symphonies, written only a few years apart, are both weighty, significant works from Weinberg's middle-period that share a similar atmosphere. Kirill Kondrashin conducts the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra in the benchmark recordings of both symphonies, originally on Melodiya and licensed on Olympia and Russian Disc, respectively. While Gabriel Chmura's dynamic, hard-edged accounts with the National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra on Chandos lack the finesse, warmth and humanness of Kondrashin, they nonetheless manage to capture the spirit of Weinberg's music very well, and are thus recommendable. The two sinfoniettas included on the respective Chandos releases, as well as the Moldovian Rhapsody on Vol 2, are colourful orchestral works that bring a lighter tone to the otherwise heavy listening programs.

Symphony No. 17 (Op. 137)

Neos NEOS11126, Weinberg Series
Austria, 2011

Review: The 17th symphony is the first of Weinberg's trilogy On the Threshold of War. As Paul Rapoport notes in his Record Review article from 1997, in Russian the trilogy's title actually means “Having Crossed the Threshold of War”, which is more poetic than political and more suggestive than actual. Given that Weinberg dedicated his 17th symphony to Vladimir Fedoseyev – one of Russia's great conductors – it would be paradoxical for Fedoseyev to not give an excellent account of the work. In his second live recording on the Neos label, Fedoseyev does just that. It is the preferable recording to an otherwise devoted version from Vladimir Lande on Naxos. To highlight just one distinction between the two, in the second movement Fedoseyev projects a reflective, dream-like atmosphere of past recollection, linking the themes with a subtle reference to Akhmatova's poetry, as per the symphony's epithet (“Memory”): "Upon the heart, the farewell kiss remains / Indelible [...] clocks tick on, and seasons come and go, / The names of cities change, events retain / No witnesses, and memories and tears / May not be shared" (transl. Irina Zheleznova). For Fedoseyev, the pressing third movement is insistent but measured, whereas under Lande's baton, the same movement sounds rushed. Overall, Lande's interpretation remains sympathetic to the music and its ideas, but does not match the insight of the symphony's dedicatee.

Symphony No. 18, Trumpet Concerto (Opp. 138, 94)

Naxos 8573190
Germany, 2014

Review: What was said for Lande's interpretation of Symphony No. 17 cannot be said for his interpretation of Weinberg's Symphony No. 18, where a more temperate approach and the choir's somewhat more detached – yet more collected – sound suits the music more aptly than Fedoseyev's approach and overtly emotional, Soviet-era choir, in a 1985 live recording which in any case is long out-of-print. Indeed, Lande captures the symphony's poignancy and reserve in equal measure through both the instrumental first movement and remaining vocal movements. To quote Paul Rapoport again, the music's tendency to episodic structure [...] allows free association between the choral passages and the musical commentary that follows, often to striking effect. Particularly notable is [Weinberg's] treatment of the poems, which makes something of the words which is not sensed in their original form. For example, the description of war in Tvardovsky's poem [–] as cruel, sad and holy [–] is first presented that way, but at the end [is presented] in reverse order. Thus the imaginative a cappella music which ends the symphony leaves no doubt about the ultimate meaning of war. At the same time, as with many other works on the theme, Weinberg uses war as a kind of symbol for the drama of life – replete with struggles, moments of darkness and despair, consolation, and finally, internal conciliation. In this sense, the 18th symphony (and this can be said of the 17th and 19th symphonies as well) is a work of reflection, not a Socialist-Realist monument of any kind. Given the superior sound engineering from Naxos, one need not hesitate in acquiring Lande's rendition of this major work. The paired trumpet concerto (Weinberg's Op. 94, really a symphony-concerto) is likewise performed very well by Andrew Balio, capturing more of the music's lyricism than a reference recording by Timofei Dokshitser with the Moscow Philharmonic, though without employing drawn-out tempi. The militant elements in the concerto also connect well thematically with the 18th symphony, making for an auspicious pairing. No other Weinberg recording with Vladimir Lande on Naxos reaches the same level of inspiration and excellence as this one.

Symphony No. 20, Cello Concerto (Opp. 150, 43)

Chandos CHSA5107
UK, 2012

Review: Symphony No. 20 is an austere, serious work that showcases Weinberg's late, freely tonal (and sometimes polytonal) idiom in treating similar themes to its predecessors. It receives an excellent performance by the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Thord Svedlund. The paired work, Weinberg's cello concerto, is perhaps one of the composer's most approachable pieces, superlatively performed by Claes Gunnarsson.

Extra Recordings

Extra Recordings

The extra set of recordings is for listeners who are already hooked and would like to explore more of Weinberg's music – e.g. major works that were more complex or not deemed to be suitable for a first-time listening experience; alternative interpretations of recordings already contained in the core set above; or CDs containing less significant, though still beautiful compositions – i.e. a “fuller” list of recommendations and reviews. In particular, “extra” recordings should not be seen as inferior to those in the core category. It is worth noting that the selection criteria outlined in the prelude to this page rule out most Soviet-era recordings, which almost invariably contain masterful performances of Weinberg's works, but are captured using older sound recording technology and are often not available; nevertheless, some of these recordings are still referenced and/or included, such as Weinberg's accounts of his own works. Likewise, several recordings from the Olympia series – including those unique to it and not licensed or re-released – are no longer available, even though they would still be first recommendations. As in the previous, core set of recommendations and reviews, comparisons are made with additional alternatives where appropriate. For commentary on a selection of the recorded works, please see the commentary section of the Music page.

Sonatas for Piano Nos. 1, 2 & 3, 21 Easy Pieces for Piano (Opp. 5, 8, 31, 34)

Divine Art DDA25105, Russian Piano Music Series, Vol. 9
UK, 2012

Review: As noted for the 4th, 5th and 6th piano sonatas previously, Murray McLachlan originally recorded the works on this Divine Art release for Olympia in the mid-1990's. While written early in Weinberg's career, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd sonatas are highly precocious. As before, McLachlan's interpretations are still unmatched, even though Elisaveta Blumina's take on two of these three early works is, in a different way, commendable. The 21 easy pieces are not major works, but are invariably pleasing and a nice way to round out the program.

Sonatas for Violin Solo Nos. 1, 2 & 3 (Opp. 82, 95, 126)

Toccata Classics TOCC0007, TOCC0026, TOCC0096
UK, 2010, 2013, 2021

Review: Much like all of Weinberg's stringed solo sonatas, the violin solo sonatas are complex masterpieces of the genre. Yuri Kalnits performs these towering accomplishments with much passion and aplomb, sometimes sounding a little improvisatory, but never mannered. Repeated listening reveals the depth and insight which Kalnits brings to the music. Acquiring the violin solo sonatas in Yuri Kalnits' interpretations is, unfortunately, not quite as easy as it should be, as they are spread across three CDs; but the effort is worthwhile. One can purchase the relevant tracks across all three releases as FLAC files, in addition to using streaming services. Alternatively, all three CDs can be acquired one-by-one; however, the interpretations of the violin and piano sonatas are not the strong points of the releases, despite the dedicated contributions of both Kalnits and Michael Csányi-Wills on piano. In comparison to alternatives, Linus Roth's interpretation on Challenge Classics is sympathetic to the music, but can sound forced in some passages and fails to convey the depth and intensity of the pieces in the same way that Kalnits does. Gidon Kremer on ECM makes a number of starkly different interpretative choices which, on one hand, cast the music in a different, more distanced light, and on the other hand, come across as slightly jarring in the first and second sonatas especially. A review by Gavin Dixon in Fanfare 44(6) captures similar sentiments with respect to the solo sonatas: After hearing Kalnits in this repertoire, most of the competition seems excessively theatrical and overwrought. [...] Kalnits finds something different, an intimate, confessional quality that comes through in his continuously lyrical playing. Despite this comment, the ECM recording provides a valuable alternative.

Sonatas for Viola Solo Nos. 1, 2, 3 & 4 (Opp. 107, 123, 135, 136)

Solo Musica SM310
Austria, 2019

Review: When referring to music for viola solo, few works in the modern canon (or indeed outside of it) compare to Hindemith's splendid creations; how fortunate then, that Weinberg wrote not one or two but four such works that are just as beautiful. All four of Weinberg's viola solo sonatas are highly sophisticated, intellectually challenging and deeply spiritual works, and they are outstandingly interpreted by Viacheslav Dinerchtein – with much emotion and devotedness – on this Solo Musica release. In comparison to the only previous recording on Neos with Julia Rebekka Adler, Dinerchtein takes a more flexible, dynamic approach (though without mannerisms) that conveys the music's intensity, and thereby intent, much more successfully.

24 Preludes for Cello Solo, Sonata for Cello Solo No. 1 (Opp. 100, 72)

Naxos 8572280
Germany, 2010

Review: Josef Feigelson was the first to record Weinberg's 24 preludes for Olympia in the 1990s, and his rendition of these diverse, serious works has stood the test of time for good reason. While not always easy to approach, the preludes' kaleidoscopic range of moods, ideas, quotations (including from one of Shostakovich's cello concertos) and allusions make for many discoveries. Considering the variety and formal ingenuity of the preludes, coupled with the fact they are 'bite-sized' works, it is unfortunate that more cellists have not taken some of them up in concert programs. The first solo cello sonata is a profound, sweeping work and it receives a correspondingly outstanding interpretations from Feigelson. In terms of alternatives, the only cellist brave enough to put any of the preludes on record is Emil Rovner, on two imaginative releases on Divox. Rovner's performances are different but also excellent, though without reaching quite the same level of profundity as Feigelson. It is worth remarking that Emil Rovner is the only cellist so far to have recorded Weinberg's revised and extended second solo cello sonata from 1977, which was deemed sufficiently unique from its predecessor to be given another opus number (Op. 121).

Sonatas for Violin and Piano Nos. 1, 2, 3 & 6, Sonatina for Violin and Piano, Moldovian Rhapsody, Sonata for Two Violins (Opp. 12, 15, 37, 136bis, 46, 47/3, 69)

CPO cpo-777-4572
Germany, 2016

Review: Weinberg's early two violin sonatas show a composer still in search for an individual voice in the medium. The significant compositional accomplishments of the 3rd sonata, written only 3 years later in 1947, show just how quickly Weinberg developed during his early years in the Soviet Union. Once again, it is the performance by Andreas and Stefan Kirpal on CPO that stands out as an interpretative peak with respect to these works. In addition to the violin sonata, the 2-CD recording also includes the delightful sonatina and Moldovian Rhapsody (violin and piano version), as well as the violin duo sonata from 1959, which, to cite a worn-out adage, “is alone worth the price of the disc” – it is a real gem and performed admirably by Stefan and Gundula Kirpal.

Piano Quintet, String Quartet No. 12 (Opp. 18, 103)

Olympia OCD
UK, 1994

Review: It was simply too difficult to resist including the Borodin Quartet's account of Weinberg's 12th string quartet, so that listeners can hear how this music sounded in Weinberg's lifetime, and how it really ought to sound: delicate, refined, harmonically balanced, at times prayerful, at other times conciliatory, serene, driven, and many other qualities that one can hear in this, but only in this, performance of the piece. The piano quintet is performed with Weinberg at the piano, and hence is the benchmark recording for this piece. Currently, the out-of-print Olympia recording (licensed from Melodiya) is only available as a FLAC file download from Presto Classical and for streaming via Spotify. Note that the quintet also appears in an Alto release referred to later, though Alto seems to delete Weinberg CD recordings from their catalogue rather quickly, one assumes due to the manufacture of a limited number of CD pressings.

Piano Trio, Sonatina for Violin and Piano, Sonata for Double-Bass Solo (Opp. 24, 46, 108)

CPO 777804-2
Germany, 2014

Review: As is the situation with the piano quintet, there a number of excellent recordings of Weinberg's piano trio from 1945. Of those that include the work as part of an all-Weinberg program, one of the most outstanding versions is performed by Elisaveta Blumina, Johannes Moser and Kolja Blacher on CPO. The musicians perfectly capture both the blazing passion and gentle poetry of the trio, within the context of an imaginatively combined program that includes the violin sonatina (once again, extremely well performed by Blumina and Ezez Ofer) and Weinberg's only double-bass solo sonata. With respect to the latter, Nabil Shehata manages to successfully convey the work's beguiling lyricism and overall musical architecture, even while taking several (minor) interpretative liberties, to good effect.

Symphony No. 3, Ballet Suite No. 4 from The Golden Key (Opp. 45, 55-D)

Chandos CHSA5089
UK, 2011

Review: The 3rd symphony, by turn dramatic and mellow, is somewhat lighter in tone than most, if not all, of Weinberg's other symphonies, with moments of joy achieved through various Slavic folk inflections. Thord Svedlund deftly conducts the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra as it weaves through the work's neo-romantic, rhapsodic lines, but also portrays the music's drama and agitated searching. Svedlund and the GSO also seem completely attuned to the symphony's Slavic folk-character, which helps them to successfully convey the many nuances of the work. While arguably not one of Weinberg's major symphonies, the 3rd is a beautiful work that deserves repeating hearing. The ballet suite included in the Chandos release is a delightful piece from the mid-1960's. In terms of alternatives, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla's account of the 3rd symphony on DG is similarly masterful from a technical perspective, perhaps even more so, with the mellow aspects of the work suiting the conductor's approach much more than Weinberg's 7th symphony on the same release. Nevertheless, in terms of interpretative choices, Gražinytė-Tyla downplays the aspects of drama and searching, which ultimately results in a loss of nuance and character, leaving the impression that the symphony is, beyond doubt, outstanding music, but overly generic.

Symphony No. 8 Polish Flowers (Op. 83)

Naxos 8572873
Germany, 2013

Review: Weinberg's 8th symphony is a deeply personal work, as discussed in Lyudmila Nikitina's 1994 article (partially translated) on the Further Reading page. The symphony received its world premiere and first recording under the baton of Antoni Wit, with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir. Given Wit's experience in conducting 20th century masterpieces and the stature of the Warsaw Philharmonic, one could not have asked for better first-time interpreters and performers of the score; there is every reason to consider this Naxos release as definitive. The only additional remark worth making (unrelated to any of the criteria for evaluating recordings on this page) is that Naxos does not provide translations of Julian Tuwim's Polish texts, which, to say the least, is a real shame. The original Polish texts are, however, provided online, and one can use Google translate to get a feel of the ideas behind the sung words.

Symphonies Nos. 14 & 16 (Opp. 117, 131)

Chandos CHAN10334
UK, 2006

Review: This is the 3rd volume of Weinberg's symphonies on Chandos with Gabriel Chmura conducting the National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The 16th symphony is a world premiere, but the 14th has been recorded previously with Vladimir Fedoseyev conducting the USSR Radio Symphony Orchestra. In comparison with that earlier recording, Chmura's strong-willed approach is better suited to the work, and the result is more compelling. Since the 16th symphony is similar in nature, there is no reason to doubt the excellence of Chmura's interpretation; and the NPRSO's playing throughout is responsive and highly accomplished. Both the 14th and 16th symphonies are powerful, portentious works of large proportions; yet one feels that, despite some magical moments, the same ideas are already better expressed elsewhere within Weinberg's oeuvre – especially in the trilogy On the Threshold of War (Symphonies Nos. 17, 18 & 19). The pairing of these two works also makes for quite heavy listening – even more so than the two previous volumes in the series. Nevertheless, Chandos and all the musicians involved should be commended for making these two late symphonies available in authoritative performances.

Symphony No. 21 (Op. 152), Polish Tunes (Op. 47/2)

Toccata Classics TOCC0193
UK, 2014

Review: Weinberg considered Symphony No. 21 to be his most important, and indeed from the perspective of his aspiration to memorialize in music the tragic fate of his relatives and the sufferings of the whole Jewish people in the 20th century, it must be seen as such. Nevertheless, it is not a work that serves well as an introduction for first-time listeners, containing as it does the whole plethora of Weinberg's musical-symphonic and life experiences compressed into a single, unrelenting score. Both Dmitry Vasilyev conducting the Siberian Symphony Orchestra and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducting the CBSO have recorded this late symphony, and each interpretation has its own unique characteristics; for example, Dmitry Vasilyev takes a more dynamic and intense approach, whereas Gražinytė-Tyla is more sweeping and cinematic. Unfortunately, the criticism made earlier with respect to the lack of characterization in Gražinytė-Tyla's interpretations of Weinberg must be made here as well – which is not to say that Gražinytė-Tyla and the CBSO lack intensity or generate less drama, but that this drama and intensity remain generic. While Gražinytė-Tyla's account is certainly accomplished, it is ultimately Vasilyev's more sharply-etched version that is preferable, due, not least, to the Siberian conductor and orchestra's superior ability to convey the depth of Weinberg's monological narrative, whether it passes through pronounced Jewish folk-themes, various harmonic explosions, or moments of focused inwardness. Ultimately, this also translates into an ability to more poignantly convey the element of prayer that is so strongly inherent in the whole work – see, for example, Weinberg's own description of the symphony's main chorale-like theme on the Further Reading page. After all, the 21st symphony's subtitle explicitly refers to a Judaic prayer, the Kaddish: [...] In the world which will be renewed, and where He will give life to the dead, and raise them to eternal life [...] may His salvation blossom and His anointed be near [...] may there be abundant peace from heaven, [...] healing, redemption, forgiveness, atonement [...] may He who makes peace in His high places grant peace upon us [...]. Reading the prayer's text, one can begin to understand Weinberg's intentions in greater depth. The pairing of Polish Tunes Op. 47/2 on the Toccata Classics release also has relevance, in relation to Weinberg's life before the atrocities to which he was an indirect witness.

Symphony No. 22, Six Ballet Scenes from The White Chrysanthemum (Opp. 154, 113)

Toccata Classics TOCC0313
UK, 2015

Review: The next symphony Weinberg was to write, No. 22, is far more accessible than its predecessor, not only because of its different, ruminative nature, but also because it is, in a sense, more personal, reflecting on the variegated life of a single individual – with its joyful and sad moments, chance and destined occurrences, friendships, trivialities, significant successes and dismal failures – as opposed to the cataclysmic tribulations of a whole people. The music of the symphony was finished but left unorchestrated at Weinberg's death; Kirill Umansky completed the orchestration after carefully studying a number of Weinberg's symphonies, and even working in Weinberg's own villa. Umansky's concerted efforts were clearly fruitful, since the work sounds completely authentic; and since all the notes are, in the end, Weinberg's, there is no reason to shy away from this final symphonic masterpiece. The six modernistic ballet scenes are similarly beautiful music with a strong Oriental (Japanese) tinge. The performances of both works by the Siberian Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Dmitry Vasilyev, are exquisite.

Chamber Symphonies Nos. 2 & 4 [Vol. 2, CD1]; Sinfonietta No. 2, Flute Concerto No. 2 [Vol. 2, CD2] (Opp. 147, 153, 74, 148); Chamber Symphonies Nos. 1 & 3, Flute Concerto No. 1 [Vol. 1] (Opp. 145, 151, 75)

Dux DUX163233, DUX1525
Poland, 2020, 2019

Review: Weinberg's four late chamber symphonies are relatively well represented on record. The first, second and third of these look back, to varying extents, on material from early string quartets; hence it can be said that the works mix youthful vigour with all the technical facility Weinberg had acquired in the intervening years. Moreover, the chamber symphonies provide an excellent way to experience (or perhaps re-experience) these early quartets, which were omitted from the previous recommendations. The premiere recordings of the 1st, 2nd and 4th chamber symphonies were by Thord Svedlund conducting the Umeå Symphony Orchestra, released on Olympia and later re-released on Alto; and of the 3rd chamber symphony, a Soviet-era account with Vladimir Fedoseyev conducting the USSR Radio Symphony Orchestra. All of these are worth hearing if they can be acquired; however, of the currently available versions, some of the best can be found on Dux with Anna Duczmal-Mróz conducting the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra of Polish Radio. These interpretations stand out, above all, for their mixture of graceful refinement and architectural coherence. Moreover, the Dux releases include Weinberg's two flute concertos spread across two of the three CDs – the first aptly combined the first and third chamber symphonies, and the second with the second and fourth symphony, on a separate CD with Weinberg's second sinfonietta. The only deficiencies are the slow tempi taken for the first two movements of the 1st chamber symphony – though they are offset to a degree by the coherency which Duczmal-Mróz maintains throughout; and the slight lack of control in the initial build-up in the first movement of the 2nd symphony (a more minor point). With respect to the other works on the recordings, Łukasz Długosz performs both flute concertos wonderfully, with the first – with its sprightly, folk-inflected rhythms and transparent textures – being the more distinguished of the two.
In terms of alternatives, the East-West Chamber Orchestra conducted by Rostislav Krimer perform the same chamber symphonies on Naxos with great zeal and energy, but lack the refinement of the ACOPR. Kremerata Baltica conducted by Gidon Kremer and, for the 4th chamber symphony, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla on ECM likewise present very solid interpretations, and indeed make a stronger case for the first symphony; however, maestro Kremer occasionally takes surprising interpretative liberties (e.g. in the last movement of the 2nd chamber symphony). Moreover, the inclusion of the two flute concertos on the Dux release is preferable (especially for first-time listeners) to the piano quintet arrangement on ECM.

Violin Concerto, Piano Quintet (Opp. 67, 18)

Alto ALC1452
UK, 2022

Review: Leonid Kogan gave both the premiere and reference recording of Weinberg's often hectic but immensely noble violin concerto. To date, this interpretation has not been matched on record, although several prominent violinists have tried their hand; there is, however, a superlative concert performance by David Radzynski with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Manfred Honeck, which deserves a wider hearing. The rendition of the Piano Quintet on the same Alto release is by the Borodin Quartet with Weinberg at the piano. Comparable alternatives in higher quality sound are available as noted earlier, though this interpretation will always remain special.

Requiem (Op. 96)

Neos NEOS11127, Weinberg Series
Austria, 2011

Review: This is the only performance of Weinberg's requiem, and thankfully it is a very good one, conducted by Vladimir Fedoseyev. The work is not an ideal introduction to Weinberg's music and perhaps not his best vocal work overall, but it does demonstrate a range of modernistic tendencies in setting the often dark, morbid poetic texts.

The Passenger, Congratulations!, The Idiot (Op. 97, 111, 144)

Oehms OC990, Pan Classics PC10328
Germany, 2020, 2015

Review: In addition to his numerous instrumental and orchestral works, Weinberg wrote 7 operas. Arguably the most significant of these is The Passenger, based on a book by Zofia Posmysz (see also the related materials on the Further Reading page), though the tragic topic means it is not an easy work to hear or see. There are currently three productions available on CD, DVD and Blu-ray disc: on Arthaus Musik with Teodor Currentzis (re-releasing the original Bregenz premiere), on Naxos/Capriccio with Roland Kluttig, and on Dux with Oliver von Dohnányi. Weinberg's other operatic works include The Idiot, after Fyodor Dostoyevky's famous novel, released on CD by Pan Classics; and Congratulations!, a semi-comic, two-act opera based on a story by Sholem Aleichem, available in a chamber arrangement as a two-CD set on Oehms.

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