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MIECZYSLAW WEINBERG - Symphony No. 19 "Bright May" - The Banners of Peace - Vladimir Lande (Conductor) - St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra - 747313275274 - Released: November 2012 - Naxos 8.572752

A symphony which, on the surface and upon first audition, may seem plain and generally uneventful, the Symphony No. 19 "Bright May" by Mieczyslaw Weinberg exposes its many fine details slowly over repeated listens. Similar to a black and white photograph, it reveals more of the true image and makeup of this composer than some of his more busily gestured symphonic works. It relies heavily on the relationship between notes, motifs and ideas rather than glitter, to bring its point across. It was written to celebrate the month in which the "Great Patriotic War" finally ended, but may have more to do with the bleak outlook and dread of what was yet to unfold.

The opening perfunctory declamation, with its cold, stoic and "official" countenance, quickly makes way for some very expressive and poignant writing by Weinberg, as if holding back the tears of desperation behind the facade of joy. All the material of the first segment of the work, as all three movements flow seamlessly from one to the next, will serve the whole symphony very well, and bind it together. As in the least appreciated but yet most emblematic of Shostakovich symphonies, the No. 6, this symphony is pure and unadorned Weinberg through and through. The middle slow movement in particular, with its genuine "Soviet" harmonic language and build-until-you-drop development, expresses well both sorrow and bitter anger, tenderness and brutality. The enigmatic ending of the final movement brings around the material from the beginning of the work, but ends in a whisper.

Over the last ten to fifteen years, a renewed interest in the music of Mieczyslaw Weinberg has finally gained a foothold on the concert stages and in the recording studios. It's well overdue that he be recognized as one of the great 20th century Russian symphonists alongside Prokofiev, Schnittke and Shostakovich. Several recording projects are already in the works from various labels, including his piano music on Divine Art, his chamber works on CPO, his symphonies on Chandos, and now this excellent offering on Naxos of what looks to be the continuation of a strong symphonic cycle performed by the St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Vladimir Lande, following their exceptional recording of Weinberg's own No. 6 (reviewed here).

At the present time, this seems to be the only available recording of Weinberg's No. 19. There used to be, if my memory serves me well, recordings on the Olympia and Melodyia labels, which are practically impossible to obtain at this moment. If you are always on the lookout for new, unchartered music to listen to and add to your collection, you can't really do much better than this.

Jean-Yves Duperron - February 2013