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Weinberg: Cello concerto in d minor op.43

Sol Gabetta and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France,conducted by Mikko Franck, perform the Cello in d minor op.43 composed in 1958 by Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996). Excerpt from the concert recorded on 21 décembre 2018, live from de Radio France Auditorium.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg is a relatively little-known composer whose fate was intertwined with the tragic events of the 20th century. Born in Warsaw in 1919, Weinberg studied the piano with his father before joining the conservatoire. He was twenty years old when Poland was invaded and his entire family killed. The only survivor, he sought refuge in Belarus and moved to Minsk, where he studied composition with Vassili Zolotarev. When the Nazis eventually invaded the USSR, he fled yet again and moved this time to Tachkent, in Uzbekistan. Having caught the attention of Shostakovitch, he moved to Moscow in 1943 but was arrested in 1953, by order of Stalin himself, for suppsed sionist activities; the death of the dictator only a few weeks later facilitated his release.

The end of the 1950s marked the beginning of a growing recognition, aided by the help of Shostakovitch. Though his music was performed by many of the greatest Russian musicians, his final years were marked by growing confusion and material difficulties. He died alone and desperate, having converted to Christianity in extremis shortly before his death. Seven operas, twenty two symhponies, and seventeen string quartets are part of an immense catalogue of works whose abundance is comparable to that of Darius Milhaud, even if Weinberg only assigned an opus number to barely a third of his compositions.

His opera, The Passanger, completed in 1968 but premiered posthumously in 2006, has since been staged throughout the world. It tells the story of an old female Nazi jailer who believes to have recognised, on a boat, a prisoner from Auschwitz.

Weinberg is also the composer of countless works of chamber music. It is said that for over thirty years Shostakovitch and Weinberg exchanged works in order to provide feedback on each other's music. It would, however, be unfair to consider Weinberg imitator: his music is also the result of influences from central European composers (Mahler, Bartok), but also the music of other Russian composers (Prokofiev), and even Jewish traditions.

Weinberg composed seven concertos, including a Cello Concerto premiered in 1957 by Mstislav Rostropovitch and recorded seven years later, again by Rostropovitch and the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Kirill Kondrachine. The work, in four movements, is of a meditative colour, sombre and tense, with an orchestra strangely deprived of its oboe and bassoons but afforded a bass trombone, which strengthens its menacing character. The solo cello opens the work with a dark and painful melody. The music grows gradually, then La musique prend peu à peu son essor, before falling yet again into a sense of despondency. The second movement, vehement and angry, is followed by an Allegro with an air of false joy on the brink of madness; several extremely high notes from the cello testify to the bitterness of Weinberg's music, with a hammering orchestra, reminiscent of Béla Bartók. The cadenza is in fact a moment of meditation before a final hectic Allegro, this time evoking the orchestral music of Shostakovitch.

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