RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR
Recording of the Year & Orchestral
Weinberg Symphonies Nos 2 & 21, ‘Kaddish’ Gidon Kremer vn City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra; Kremerata Baltica / Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla DG F 483 6566 (6/19) Producer Vilius Keras Engineers Aleksandra Kerienė & Donatas Kielius
While one of the thrills of live concert-going is that of discovering a previously unfamiliar work, one of the supreme joys of recorded music is surely the realisation that the experience that moved you so powerfully in the concert hall was no one-off: that yes, this really is a masterpiece, captured in a performance that will bear repeated and ever deeper listening. I was fortunate enough to have been present at Symphony Hall, Birmingham in November 2018 when Mirga GraΩinyte˙-Tyla conducted the combined forces of Kremerata Baltica and the CBSO in the UK premiere of Mieczysπaw Weinberg’s 21st Symphony; an experience so moving that I initially had misgivings about revisiting it as a recording.
Those fears were entirely misplaced: this is one of those recordings that feels like an event in its own right. The rediscovery of Weinberg’s music has been gathering momentum for several years now, but by choosing his final completed symphony for her debut recording on Deutsche Grammophon, GraΩinyte˙-Tyla makes an unignorable statement about his place in 20th-century music. The symphony itself is unforgettable. Completed in 1991 and entitled Kaddish, it is dedicated to the memory of those hundreds of thousands of people who died in the Warsaw Ghetto – both a towering public monument and an intensely personal, at times almost unbearably intimate, act of private mourning. Weinberg works on an epic scale, and over nearly an hour he welds string threnodies, scraps of Chopin, haunted chorales and klezmer laments into a work that stands, unambiguously, in
32 GRAMOPHONE RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR 2020
Orchestral category sponsored by the post-Romantic symphonic tradition. Shostakovich is an obvious point of reference. For Gidon Kremer (who plays the extensive violin solos), hearing the 21st for the first time was like discovering ‘Mahler’s Eleventh Symphony’, and I don’t think that overstates either its significance or its power.
The symphony has been recorded once before, but for the concentrated intensity of its great climaxes, the heart-searching tenderness of the solo and ensemble playing, and the way that GraΩinyte˙-Tyla shapes the six huge movements into a longrange argument of overwhelming purpose and conviction, it’s hard to imagine this recording being surpassed. GraΩinyte˙-Tyla herself sings the eerie solo soprano part in the final movement, and there’s no sense of a gimmick: it’s the natural culmination of a performance in which every musician present is committed, body and soul.
If I haven’t mentioned the coupling, the deceptively lyrical Second Symphony of 1946, it’s because its intelligence and eloquence can almost be taken as read. Once heard, the 21st is hard to unhear. Gramophone Awards discussions are often lively and frequently robust; but even with Ji∑i B∆lohlávek and John Wilson in contention, I’ve rarely witnessed such unanimity. When, in 1988, the CBSO achieved its first Recording of the Year under the (then) 32-year-old Simon Rattle, this magazine hailed ‘conducting akin to genius’ and ‘an orchestra of world class’. Three decades later, the same applies. Once again, a major label has backed its belief in an exceptional young conductor, and issued a recording that every open-minded listener will want to hear. Richard Bratby gramophone.co.uk