War… there is no word more cruel

Weinberg 18

Mieczyslaw Weinberg, or at least his music, is making an accelerated catch-up. After years of being completely ignored, his works are being programmed more and more often, and one composition after another by the great master (for that is what he undoubtedly was,) is being recorded and released on CD.

Many of his compositions are strongly influenced by his teacher and intimate friend, Dmitri Shostakovich, but never before have I perceived this influence so strongly as in his trumpet concerto composed in 1966. Of course, this is also due to the choice of instrument. Like no other, the trumpet is perfectly suited to express irony, the favourite form of expression of both composers. No wonder that Shostakovich’s Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings comes to mind.

The orchestration is also ‘des Sjostakovichs’: think of his Lady Macbeth of Mstsensk. The essential difference lies in its overall refinement and in the development and solution of the main theme. Where the teacher still set his own limit, the pupil takes it a step further, into the wide world.

Part two, Episodes, strongly reminds me of Ives and in the third part, the Fanfares, Weinberg explores atonality. In doing so, he freely makes use of improvisations and free jazz.

Andrew Balio is, I think (I do not know him), one of the greatest virtuosos among trumpet players. His melancholic sound in the second movement contrasts sharply with his fantastic improvisations in the third.

The 18th symphony is, as the title suggests, nothing less than a major indictment of war. Composed in the for the Soviet Union turbulent 1980s, it does not fail to impress with its unconventional division of the movements. It starts with an adagio and it also ends with an adagio; the pianissimo poem by Aleksandr Tvardovsky sung by the choir:

“War – there is no word more cruel.
War – there is no word more sad.
War – there is no word more holy
In the sorrow and the glory of these years.
There is and there could not be
Any other word on our lips.”

Very impressive.

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