Gidon Kremer / Kremerata Baltica

Mieczyslaw Weinberg: Chamber Symphonies; Piano Quintet

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Gidon Kremer and his Kremerata Baltica ensemble may be best known for Piazzolla, but they have also specialized in the rediscovery of neglected East Bloc composers. The Polish-born Mieczyslaw Weinberg, a follower of Shostakovich who was much championed by his mentor, doesn't quite qualify as neglected, but much of his music, including the late chamber symphonies recorded here, has awaited persuasive performances. The chamber symphonies aren't quite a genre in themselves, the first three are arranged from earlier Weinberg string quartets, while the 1992 Chamber Symphony No. 4, Weinberg's last completed work, is original. It's a fascinating piece, with a triangle sounding the strokes of approaching death at the end. The Piano Quintet, Op. 18, of 1944, is presented in an arrangement for string orchestra and, notably, percussion; the word "arrangement" doesn't seem strong enough for what's happening. This is the place to start sampling, for there are all kinds of junctures where the music sounds like Shostakovich, but veers off into something decisively different. The work is, like Shostakovich's roughly contemporaneous piano quintet, in five movements, but they are not Shostakovich's five. Sample one of the two scherzo-like movements for the superficially Shostakovich-like effect. The substantial 14-plus-minute "Largo" does not have Shostakovich's bitter grimness, but an altogether nonpareil, very subdued lyricism. The performances, conducted by Kremer except for the final chamber symphony, are wonderfully sensitive, and the engineering, from Vienna's venerable Musikverein, is, as you expect from ECM, superb. If you were thinking of passing this up because it consists mostly of arrangements of obscure repertory, well, the arrangements make sense (and have precedent in the realm of Shostakovich), and the repertory isn't going to be obscure for much longer.

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