Symphonic Concert | The Witold Lutosławski Concert Studio, Warsaw
In February, Sinfonia Iuventus invites everyone to a concert featuring two magnificent symphonies authored by composers who worked not far apart (and who knew each other), in the difficult reality of the Soviet Union, when the authority heavily constrained autonomy of artists who, on the other hand, fought for it by hook or by crook. Weinberg and Prokofiev experienced both the authority’s mercy, and severe persecutions; their works displayed signs of concession and – although allusive – resistance. The history has done justice to them and the true beauty of both composers’ music turned out to be timeless. Free from ideological contexts of the grim era, their music amazes now listeners around the world. Whereas Prokofiev’s fame has been rock steady for decades, Mieczysław Weinberg has experienced a renaissance only recently – especially in the country where he came from and which he always considered his homeland.
He was born (1919) in a musical Jewish family in Warsaw where he started his education as a student of Józef Turczyński. In 1939, saving himself from the German torment, he left Poland and after short periods in Minsk (he studied there with Vasily Zolotarev) and Tashkent, he landed in Moscow. There he entered the group focused around Shostakovich, whom he perceived his master (“Even though I have never studied with him, I consider myself his student, his body and blood”, he recalled) and became his long-time and close friend. Recognised and valued in the Soviet Union, in the country of his childhood he was long unnoticed – yet he never forgot about Poland. For persons who are familiar with Shostakovich’s works, Symphony No. 5 by Weinberg (1962) may become an attractive starting point for comparison, since the piece – as the author admitted – emerged in respond to a performance (25 years after it was composed) of his beloved spiritual master’s Fourth, that was “damned” by the Soviet regime. The belated premiere was conducted by Kiril Kondrashin, and it was him whom Weinberg dedicated the tragic and pompous symphony. In Warsaw, it will resound under the guidance of Gabriel Chmura who has been a dedicated and qualified promoter of the recently rediscovered output of Weinberg and who often (to concordant joy of audiences and critics) conducts his pieces and records them for various labels, including Chandos.
The success of Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1, known as “Classical” (1918), was among the key milestones of his fame, however the Paris premiere of the Second was not received warmly. The Third and the Fourth were not fully autonomous pieces, since they incorporated excerpts from the opera The Fiery Angel and the ballet The prodigal son, respectively. Following the premiere of the Fourth (1930), Prokofiev-symphonist went silent for many years. The reasons were of both artistic nature – he focused on other music genres – and political one. The Soviet regime imposed a restricting doctrine of “socialist realism”, expecting thus from artists to produce socially committed art that would be possibly accessible. The dramatic experience of artists including Shostakovich, who fell out of favour (ban on performing his works, no commissions for new ones, press ostracism) after the mentioned Symphony No. 4, did not encourage to approach symphonies. However after 14 years, in 1944, he revealed a new piece of this genre, which he composed in the tragedy of war. As opposed to heroic and tragic symphonies by Shostakovich from that period (Symphonies No. 7 and 8), this one is rather an expression of escapism. According to the author, it was supposed to be “a hymn in honour of a free and happy man, of his power and noble spirit”. The result was an accessible and tonal work that amazes with the beauty of motifs. The predominant feelings breaking through are joy and optimism (although the third movement – Adagio – includes also some tragic tones). The audience at the Moscow premiere received it very well and soon the symphony commenced its triumphant march around the world’s concert halls, becoming one of the most popular pieces authored by Prokofiev.
Polish Orchestra Sinfonia Iuventus
Gabriel Chmura – conductor
Mieczysław Weinberg – Symphony No.5, op.76, F minor
Sergei Prokofiev – Symphony No.5, op.100, B-flat major