Duczmal-Mróz Conducts Weinberg

WEINBERG: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 7 / Amadeus Chamber Orch. of Polish Radio; Anna Duczmal-Mróz, cond / Dux 1631

WEINBERG: Chamber Symphonies Nos. 2 & 4*. Sinfonietta No. 2. Flute Concerto No. 2+ / *Kornel Wolak, cl; +Łukasz Długosz, fl; Amadeus Chamber Orch. of Polish Radio; Anna Duczmal-Mróz, cond / Dux 1632-33

These are two more installments in Anna Duczmal-Mróz’ growing discography, and two more of her conducting the music of now-famed Polish-Soviet composer Mieczysław Weinberg (spelled Wajnberg on the CD covers, but that is open to interpretation; his name is also spelled Vainberg in some parts of Russia).

The daughter of conductor Agnieszka Duczmal, Duczmal-Mróz’ conducting ability was discovered while she was a student at the Hannover Hochschule für Musik und Theater, where she was studying the violin. According to her website,

The conductor of the orchestra, Eiji Oue, suggested that orchestra members volunteer to take his place at the podium and conduct the orchestra. As a result of this experiment- “competition”, Anna was invited by Maestro Oue to study conducting with him (2001-2004). In June 2004 she graduated with honors and conducted NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover on her diploma concert.

In 2000 she founded a student orchestra-Benjamin Britten Kammerorchester in Hannover with which she was giving concerts in Germany. Her interpretation of Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale was so successful that the organizers repeated this concert a few months later.

In 2003, since her Polish debut with the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra of Polish Radio, she regularly records and gives concerts with this orchestra.

Duczmal-Mroz

Anna Duczmal-Mróz, from the artist’s website

I found it very interesting to compare her performance of the Second Symphony with the by-now-famous one made by Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla with the City of Birmingham Orchestra for Deutsche Grammophon. Although Gražinyte-Tyla conducts the work at a slightly faster pace than Duczmal-Mrőz, her pacing and shaping of the music make it sound slower, possibly because of her much more intimate interpretation of the music. In the opening “Allegro moderato,” for instance, Gražinyte-Tyla is as soft as a whisper whereas Duczmal-Mrőz is somewhat louder and, moreover, pushes the music forward with more propulsion. To my ears, this enhances the music’s structure—and it is considerably stronger in emotion, with the louder middle section having almost the driving force of a Beethoven symphony. When one considers the fact that Weinberg was indeed a Polish-born-and-raised composer, and that Polish folk music is both rhythmic and emotionally charged, this makes a lot more sense. It’s like the difference between those pianist who play Chopin, and particularly the waltzes and mazurkas, as if they were delicate china that should be handled with kid gloves, and those pianists who give the music the rhythmic impetus that real Polish waltzes and mazurkas have. Although I liked both performances, I found myself appreciating what Duczmal-Mróz does a bit more.

Towards the end of the first movement, where the music does become much quieter, slower and more intimate, Duczmal-Mróz makes more of the contrasts; in fact, the contrast is particularly striking because it seems to happen all of a sudden, whereas Gražinyte-Tyla, already tending towards a softer profile for this movement, blends it into the previous section. Whether or not this was the composer’s intention, I cannot say; Weinberg’s scores are not readily available for viewing unless one is willing (and able) to spend some kapusta on them. (You can find an extremely shrunken image of the score pages HERE, but even doing a screen shot and increasing the size you cannot really read it clearly.) Nor does Duczmal-Mróz skim over the deeply-felt “Adagio” movement; on the contrary, she is as penetrating as Gražinyte-Tyla, only with better clarity of texture.  In the third-movement “Allegretto,” Duczmal-Mróz’ deadly accuracy in note-values produces an eerie, and then a driving, sound, whereas Gražinyte-Tyla coasts along in the soft pizzicato passages, suddenly ramping up the drama in the louder section. Again, I like both approaches; they are different, but complement one another in much the same way that Artur Rodziński and Bruno Walter complemented each other in performing the same music, the first ultra-precise and the second precise at times but also warmer and more flexible.

Gražinyte-Tyla had famed violinist Gidon Kremer as her soloist n her recording of the symphony; Duczmal-Mróz’ violin soloist in the Second Symphony and harpsichord soloist in the Seventh are unidentified in the accompanying booklet, but both play well. My guess is that both are simply members of the orchestra, but it would have been nice to name them. Her performance of the Seventh provides an interesting comparison with the recording made by famed Russian conductor Rudolf Barshai, to whom the work was dedicated, with his Moscow Chamber Orchestra on Melodiya, and once again it is Duczmal-Mróz who brings out the greater clarity without damaging the emotional feeling of the work. By this time (1964) Weinberg had been living in the Soviet Union for nearly a quarter-century and was, practically speaking, more of a Russian composer than a Polish one. Both his themes and rhythms are more, you might say, cosmopolitan than rural. Both his traumatic wartime experiences, which scarred his emotionally for life, and his often harsh treatment at the hands of Stalin (who killed his father-in-law, one of his few surviving relatives, in 1949 because Weinberg wouldn’t fall in line with Stalin’s demands for simpler, more appealing music) had also made his music increasingly more introverted. Despite moments of strong rhythmic impetus, this symphony, like so many that he wrote, has an amorphous structure and conveys bittersweet sadness and resignation to fate more than any vital, life-affirming qualities. Weinberg’s music taps into our melancholy side, but does so without pathos or bathos. It’s just sad, in and of itself, without crying on your shoulder until he breaks your collarbone. In the fourth movement of the Seventh there is a bass solo near the end, very well played, but again the soloist is unidentified.

In the Chamber Symphonies, Duczmal-Mróz has less heavyweight competition. The only other recordings I could find of these works was the one by Rosistlav Krimer and the East-West Chamber Orchestra on Naxos of numbers 1 and 3 and the one of numbers 3 and 4 by Thord Svedlund and the Helsingsborgs Symphony on Chandos. I was so taken by Duczmal-Mrőz’ peeformances of Chamber Symphonies Nos. 1 & 3 when they came out on Dux 1525 that I abandoned Krimer’s recording, which I had in my collection. Here she not only completes the series with Chamber Symphonies Nos. 2 & 4, but adds to them the Sinfonietta No. 2 and Flute Concerto No. 2, which makes this a 2-CD set. And here, the clarinet soloist in the second chamber symphony and the flute soloist in the concerto are identified by name, and they are really excellent musicians.

The Chamber Symphony No. 2, a late work (Op. 147), is one of Weinberg’s most powerful and direct works, opening with an almost frenzied figure in the first movement, and the music becomes even more dramatic and anguished as it continues. The second movement is a quirky, broken-rhythmed minuet, while the third is more in line with most Weinberg symphonies, a slow, moody piece with a touch of melancholy in it. The Chamber Symphony No. 4 is even later (Op. 153, written in 1992) and opening where the second left off, with a sad-sounding “Lento” using somewhat tonal but ambiguous harmony, a Weinberg trademark. Half way through the first movement there is a plaintive clarinet solo played by Kornel Wolak. Here, it is the second movement that is fast and dramatic, opening with swirling strings and an odd, biting melody in triplets played by the solo clarinet. The third movement features unidentified violin and cello solos, the second quite extensive and later intertwining with the clarinet (and then the violin as well). As the third movement blends into the slightly faster fourth, we hear the clarinet playing a sort of sad klezmer melody over the strings. Wolak has an incredibly rich tone, much like that of Artie Shaw, which mitigates a little against the klezmer references, but he plays so well that all is forgiven. The clarinet and strings then play off each other with varying themes and development for a time, followed by an extensive clarinet cadenza which leads to a slower tempo and even quieter music, on which it ends.

I hadn’t heard the Sinfonietta or the Flute Concerto No. 2 previously, only the Flute Concerto No. 1. The former again opens dramatically, with an ostinato rhythm and sharply-etched string figures. Later in the first movement, a few tympani whacks accent the rhythm further. The second movement opens with a string figure that almost but not quite mirrors some of the motifs in the first, but the tempo is slightly slower, the volume rather softer and the effect less dramatic. As the music develops, these ostinato figures morph and are shifted around in a most ingenious manner. The broad, expansive “Adagio” is less melancholy than usual for Weinberg and features a nice viola solo near the beginning of it. The last movement opens with a soft, continuous tympani roll over which violas and celli play a peculiar theme, which then moves into a slow waltz tempo as it is developed. The music fades away at the end.

The Flute Concerto No. 2 is typical of the way Weinberg handled such pieces, with the solo instrument almost being more of a soloist out of the orchestra than a show-off virtuoso. One is continually amazed by the way he could play with minor modes and “leaning” harmonies, tonal yet ambiguous—sort of a modernized, very personal Debussy-like approach. After the quite opening the music slowly crescendos to a peak of volume and emotion before ebbing again to allow a solo violin to interrupt the flute and play a bridge passage. Then the solo flute sets up a rhythmic melody which is picked up by the violins, which then continue for a while before the flute returns. The dialogue between the flute and the strings continues for some time. Aftr a slow section, we hear a quirky melody that is very Kabalevsky-like, only with its own peculiar twists, followed by another slow passage with sustained strings behind the flute.

In the second movement, Weinberg gives us a moody “Largo” which is not particularly melancholy but still a bit strange. He uses slow-moving basses and celli to create a “bed” of sound over which the flute plays, while in the third pizzicato strings underscore the semi-jolly flute theme, played as an “Allegretto” before the music moves into “Andante molto ritenuto.” Weinberg tosses in a bit of J.S. Bach’s flute music here as an inside joke.

These are really excellent performances, highly recommended.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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