Weinberg: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 7; Flute Concerto No. 1

Few people had even heard of Polish-born composer Mieczysław Weinberg before 2018, when star Lithuanian conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla recorded two of his symphonies (Nos. 2 and 21) for Deutsche Grammophon, an album that went on to win many accolades and awards across the world. Now, she returns with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) alongside the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen to record more music by the composer she describes passionately as having written “some of the greatest music that nobody knows.” The new album opens with Weinberg’s Seventh Symphony of 1964, a genre-redefining work in five continuous movements, scored for string orchestra and harpsichord that takes the Baroque concerto grosso to its outer limits. “In a way, the strings are the soul and the living passion, the unquiet heart of the Seventh Symphony,” Gražinytė-Tyla tells Apple Music, “while the harpsichord appears to breathe the air of a different planet, as if coming from a distance. The second movement is incredibly dramatic and passionate, while the fourth cries out with almost overwhelming, screaming pain. In between comes the symphony’s emotional nerve center, a movement of extraordinary harmonic and melodic richness. Its heartbreaking song develops through all the string groups, alternating with a rhythmical motif announced by the violas (as if knocking), resulting in music of astonishing beauty and simplicity.” In Weinberg’s music, nothing is ever quite as it seems, reflecting his ambivalent relationship with the Soviet authorities, both as a composer and as a Jew. This comes to a head in the finale of the Seventh Symphony, which, as Gražinytė-Tyla points out, “is a strange scherzo that appears to hide an emotional narrative. Harpsichordist Kirill Gerstein suggested to me that the opening semiquaver motif in the harpsichord could be a doorbell ringing, alerting those inside to the presence of state officials coming to arrest Weinberg for being bourgeois Jewish.” The Seventh Symphony requires chamber-scale sensitivity, and here Gražinytė-Tyla had a “dream team” of Gerstein and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. “It was our first Weinberg together,” she recalls with obvious relish, “which brought a special freshness to our music-making. This orchestra never seems to tire, which makes the process of unraveling Weinberg’s soundworld during rehearsals extremely satisfying—everyone seems to feel that there is always more to be found. The orchestra’s vast experience of the classical repertoire—their everyday “bread and butter”—proved a fantastic advantage in the neo-Baroque style of the Seventh Symphony.” By way of contrast, Gražinytė-Tyla was keen to include Weinberg’s Flute Concerto No. 1 on the new album, especially with renowned CBSO flautist Marie-Christine Zupancic. “Marie-Christine really is a star,” she enthuses. “She is always such an inspiration. With an orchestra of only strings and the solo voice of the flute, Weinberg explores worlds of different sounds, combinations, and unexpected effects. His deep appreciation of impressionistic music is also unmistakable, especially in the second and third movements, with a dash of romanticism, neoclassicism, and Prokofiev thrown in for good measure. Yet Marie-Christine takes it all completely in her stride, working her usual magic.” For the Flute Concerto and concluding Symphony No. 3, Gražinytė-Tyla swaps orchestras to the City of Birmingham Symphony, of which she was music director between 2016 and 2022. “The glorious, rich sound of the CBSO is absolutely ideal for the Third Symphony,” Gražinytė-Tyla enthuses, “especially when you have players of such tenderness and creativity as Marie-Christine, clarinetist Oliver Janes, and harpist Katherine Thomas. The Mahlerian third movement also gives the glorious CBSO strings a chance to shine. Weinberg creates some absolutely wonderful solos for the whole group of first violins, cellos, and violas, and then creates an accompanimental melody of incredible beauty for the solo clarinet, moving on to three solo cellos in triads, before opening up unreachable depths with the lowest sounds of the double basses. The brass and percussion sections also excel themselves with their various solos and characterful episodes—creating all these colors together with the CBSO was such an incredible joy.” In its original version, the Third Symphony caused the Soviet apparatchiks so many problems that its intended 1949 premiere was canceled. “Weinberg used numerous folk melodies in the symphony, which was in line with official policy,” Gražinytė-Tyla points out. “Yet he wove around this essentially folksy vibe an incredibly intricate structure, complete with polyphonic textures and complex orchestration, to create one of the most ingenious works in all classical music—but whose aspirations to “high art” would definitely have not pleased Stalin. There are also detectable Jewish-style inflections, especially in the second and third movements. But then, there is the main theme of the last movement, which reminds me very much of Prokofiev’s music for Ivan the Terrible. It begins very agitatedly, grows throughout the movement, and then seems to pulverize the world just before the coda, where the first theme of the first movement comes back like a lament in the brass, suggesting a global catastrophe like climate change. Could the Soviet authorities have read this hidden message, if it really was one? I tend to think they might.”

Select a country or region

Africa, Middle East, and India

Asia Pacific


Latin America and the Caribbean

The United States and Canada