Vainberg: Symphony No.17/The Banners Of Peace

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This generous compact disc (seventy-two minutes) couples two orchestral works by Mieczyslaw Vainberg (a.k.a. Moishe Weinberg). Like his mentor Dmitri Shostakovich, Vainberg succeeded in writing highly personal symphonies at the price of having to turn out music for official KomPartiya consumption.

This disc pairs one each of such works written within a couple of years of each other. The Symphony No. 17, Op. 137, "Memory" (the first part of a symphonic trilogy called "On the Threshold of War" and daringly headed with quotations from poetess Anna Akhmatova) is a harsh, fearful work with almost constant recourse to thin, chamber-like textures in a dissonant harmonic setting. The other work, a symphonic poem, The Banners of Peace, Op. 143 was written for the 27th USSR Communist Party Congress of 1986. It is much more consonant and more normally scored.

Both performances are by the USSR Radio Symphony Orchestra, Vladimir Fedoseyev conducting. Both are "live" analog recordings with a basic sound quality that is generally better than the normal Soviet-era results, but still has a touch of the usual grayness of sound. (Producer and recordist are uncredited on the disc.) On the other hand, the recording of the symphony has the normally noisy Russian audience (their not infrequent coughing standing out clearly in the thinly scored portions), while The Banners of Peace--recorded at the Party Congress event for which it was written--was obviously played before a collection of bored Party hacks who made no effort at silence.

The performances are technically quite good, with solid wind playing, but they do not escape a sense of unfamiliarity, that feeling of generalized emotion rather than the understanding of a major work that often only arrives after a few different interpreters have had a go of it.