Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla / Gidon Kremer / City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Kremerata Baltica

Weinberg: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 21

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Composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg has received renewed attention, especially as the centenary year of his birth in 2019 approached. He has hardly received better advocacy than he gets here from the sensational young conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla in her first recording for Deutsche Grammophon, and first as conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Weinberg lost most of his family in the Holocaust; he himself fled to the Soviet Union, where he wasn't exactly well treated, but survived and became closely acquainted with Shostakovich. The two mutually influenced each other, but it is surprising how individual Weinberg's style remained. The Symphony No. 21, Op. 152 ("Kaddish") was worked at by Weinberg for some time and was completed in 1991, a few years before his death. The work is dedicated to the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto in World War II and has the feeling of a personal memorial. It is almost unrelievedly grim, although it has an episodic quality deriving partly from its association with a film about the ghetto. You would not pick the youthful Gražinytė-Tyla as an interpreter, but this is an extraordinary reading. The finale has a kind of wordless keening for soprano, which Gražinytė-Tyla takes herself. There is no way to know what Weinberg had in mind for the work, but the effect of her chorister's voice is extraordinary here. A factor adding a personal quality to the performance is the presence of violinist Gidon Kremer, who has championed Weinberg's music, and who here appears not only as the leader of his Kremerata Baltica in Weinberg's Symphony No. 2 for string orchestra, Op. 30, but also takes the violin solo part in the Symphony No. 21. It is as though the Weinberg baton was being handed on to the next generation. The Symphony No. 2 itself is an elegant string serenade that draws more on interwar Czech and Polish music than it does on Shostakovich. The work of Kremerata Baltica and the CBSO here seems almost to mesh, and this is an extraordinary debut overall. How is Gražinytė-Tyla going to follow it up?

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