Wallfisch Plays Weinberg

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WEINBERG: Cello Concerto, Op. 43. Fantasy. Concertino, Op. 43b / Raphael Wallfisch, cel; Kristiansand Symphony Orch.; Łukasz Borowicz, cond / CPO 555 234-2

This is only the third recording of Miecyzław Weinberg’s Cello Concerto, the first being Mstislav Rostropovich’s landmark recording from the 1960s (he premiered the work in the Soviet Union) and a recording from eight years ago by Claes Gunnarson and conductor Thord Svedlund on Chandos. Both of these previous recordings have received rave reviews. Let’s see how Raphael Wallfisch fares.

Although the cellist has a leaner, more “pointed” tone than Rostropovich, his playing is in no way inferior in feeling. Indeed, he uses a relatively wide vibrato, certainly wider than one is used to from other “compact” cellists such as Feuermann or Fournier, and moreover, he uses this vibrato expressively, modifying it to convey a broad range of emotions.

The interesting feature here is Borowicz’ conducting, which is leaner and more straightforward than that of Rozhdestvensky with Rostropovich or Svedlund with Gunnarson, yet I liked it because it revealed the underlying structure more clearly. I’m sure that some Weinberg aficionados will not like it for that reason: so much of the composer’s music is amorphous, with a loose structure built around slow tempi and frequently shifting tempi, sort of a sad Polish-Jewish Mahler, you might say, but I personally liked it very much. And surely the scoring, which emphasizes the low strings and winds in particular, is not glossed over in this presentation. In fact, it helps in the second movement where Weinberg gives us a sad sort of Yiddish tango. Indeed, I liked this approach to this work very much indeed.

The somewhat early (1943-44) Fantasia for Cello & Orchestra was also recorded by Gunnarson, but once again Wallfisch’s interpretation matches his. For a “fantasia,” it’s an incredibly slow, sad piece…not unusual for Weinberg overall, but somewhat unusual for young Weinberg. Apparently, he saw an opportunity to write for the cello in those years as a chance to spread his wings in terms of depth of expression.

The Concertino is an early (1948) draft later expanded for the Cello Concerto, using much of the same material but considerably shorter. This, too, is a fine performance that compares well to Gunnarson’s.

All in all, a fine representation of Weinberg’s music for cello, neatly played and recorded with excellent sound.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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