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Monday, March 4, 2013

Weinberg, Symphony No 8 "Polish Flowers", Warsaw Philharmonic, Antoni Wit

There is much still that remains unexplored in the creative output of Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996). We have out now, for example, the World Premier recording of his Symphony No 8 "Polish Flowers" (1964) (Naxos 8.572873), an ambitious score for full orchestra, choir (the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir) and soloists (Rafal Bartminski, tenor, Magdalena Dobrowolska, soprano, and Ewa Marciniec, alto) all for this recording under the direction of conductor Antoni Wit.

The text uses passages from Julian Tuwim's epic poem "Polish Flowers" (hence the symphony's title) that express in somber terms some of Poland's tragic past and, at the time, uncertain future. Weinberg shades the symphony according to the subject matter and so this is one of his more dramatic scores, at times quite grim, other times hopeful, but always with a passion for his home country and its fate.

It seems incredible, given the scope and impact of the work, that it has never before been recorded in its entirety. As a transplanted Polish Jew in the Soviet Union, Weinberg addressing such issues in a full symphonic context might not have been especially welcomed in those days, and that may in part explain the lack of a release at the time. But nearly 50 years is a long time to wait! Then too this is a work that puts (necessarily) such weight on the vocal/textual components of the work that it does not meet typical symphonic expectations. Perhaps it's more a dramatic oratorio than a symphony? No matter.

Regardless there is enormous dramatic power in this work and that comes across very well in this recording. It is a cornerstone work from a composer we are only now getting to know systematically in the west. The Naxos edition is impeccably produced. I for one am quite glad it has been made available to us.

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