Mieczysław Wajnberg (Weinberg) – String Quartets Nos 5-6
String Quartet No. 5 was written in the autumn of 1945 and was performed on 17 May 1947 in Moscow by the Beethoven Quartet, to whom it was dedicated. Years later, the composer returned to this Quartet and arranged it for orchestra as the four-movement Chamber Symphony No. 3, Op. 151 (performed on 18 November 1991). It was several years before that he had first begun to turn to his scores from almost half a century earlier, and he already had 17 string quartets under his belt. It was also then that he arranged his String Quartets No. 2 and No. 3 as Chamber Symphonies No. 1 and No. 2, and in the summer of 1987 that he confided to a friend: “I’m looking through the baggage of my youth. Sometimes I find something in there that is worth rethinking.” (…)
Initially, the String Quartet No. 6 had a promising reception. Soviet state patronage was so generous that members of the Composers’ Union could count on remuneration for composed works without having to seek commissions. Works were approved by a committee of colleagues who also decided on the remuneration a composer would receive. Weinberg also benefited from this privilege, and years later he recalled the circumstances surrounding the acceptance of this particular Quartet. (…) However, the Sixth Quartet proved to be an unlucky work for Weinberg, and it was probably not until 24 January 2007 in Manchester that the piece was heard by an audience for the first time, performed by Quatuor Danel. The reason? Although the Soviet state was a generous patron of its artists, there were also times when it slammed the doors of concert halls shut to their works. This is exactly what happened in this case. In February 1948, the Moscow daily Pravda published a party resolution “On the opera The Great Friendship”, in which “Comrades D. Shostakovich, S. Prokofiev, A. Khachaturian, V. Shebalin, G. Popov, N. Myaskovsky and others” were accused of bringing Soviet music to the brink of disaster. Those “others” included Weinberg, as evidenced by “Order No. 17”, featuring a list of works that were not to be performed at concerts, recorded or broadcast on the radio, sent out a few days later to orchestras, publishing houses and radio editors. The list included none other than String Quartet No. 6 as well as three other works by Weinberg. Although Stalin rescinded the list in mid-March of the following (!) year, the Sixth gathered dust in a drawer for years, and its composer did not write any new string quartet for 11 consecutive years. (…)
Wajberg briefly returned to quartet format in the autumn of 1950 when he wrote his Improvisation & Romance (Adagio. Andante). He enriched the popular vocal genre with the possibilities offered by an ensemble of four instruments that could both “sing” and “accompany” the vocal part with chords and pizzicato. The composer must have regarded this miniature as a trifle, since he did not assign it an opus number. The first ever performance of Improvisation and Romance that we know of only took place in 2018 (Quatuor Danel, Lucerne). Featured in this album, the piece is not only related in its character to String Quartet
No. 5 but it also crowns Mieczysław Weinberg’s complete string quartets recorded by the Silesian Quartet – like an unpretentious encore after a successful concert.
Translation: Xymena Plater-Zyberk
Proofreading: Jason Lowther