Monday, August 11, 2014

Quiet contemplation on loss and war

Weinberg: Symphony No. 18; Trumpet Concerto
Andrew Balio, trumpet
St. Petersburg Chamber Choir
St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra
Vladimir Lande, conductor

Mieczyslaw Weinberg's 18th symphony is the final part of a symphonic trilogy, "On the Threshold of War." Symphony No. 18, subtitled "War -- there is no word more cruel" isn't so much an anti-war statement as it is an honest portrayal of the emotional depletion felt by the survivors of conflict -- even if their victors. Overall, the work is quiet, expressing deeply-felt sorrow and loss; elegiac rather than maudlin.

Mieczyslaw's symphony uses Russian poetry quite effectively. "He was buried in the Earth," the text of the third movement is set as a simple chorale, very Russian in character -- appropriate for this poem about the death of a common foot soldier. The third movement adapts a Russian folksong that carries an undertone of disquiet before splintering into  a kaleidoscopic fugue. In the final movement, the chorus sings the poem "War -- there is no word more cruel," and the work ends with not a bang, nor whimper, but rather a calm acceptance of war's cost.

The Trumpet Concerto provides welcome emotional balance to the album. To my ears, the work uses some of Prokofiev's "wrong-note" technique, with seemingly simple melodies and harmonies not going quite the direction one expects. Trumpet soloist Andrew Balio plays with clear, full sound. Attacks are consistently clean, and the phrasing smooth and expressive. This concerto imbues the trumpet with a little bit of attitude, and Balio delivers.

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