The resurgence of interest in the music of Mieczysław Weinberg continues apace. His harrowing opera The Passenger is becoming more widely appreciated; Gidon Kremer has been banging the Weinberg drum for some time now; and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla has programmed his music enthusiastically in Birmingham. Sol Gabetta recently joined the ranks, performing his Cello Concerto with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France last year, now bringing it to the BBC Proms for the work’s London premiere.

Sol Gabetta performs Weinberg's Cello Concerto © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Sol Gabetta performs Weinberg's Cello Concerto
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

Born in Warsaw in 1919, Weinberg fled to the Soviet Union in 1939 – one step ahead of German troops – and settled in Tashkent. His First Symphony so impressed Shostakovich that he arranged for Weinberg to move to Moscow, where the two composers became close friends. Both suffered under the Great Terror, particularly the Soviet Union’s anti-formalism campaign, causing Weinberg – like Shostakovich – to keep works securely in the compositional bottom drawer, awaiting a safe time to reveal them to the world. Such was the case with Weinberg’s Cello Concerto in C minor, composed in 1948 but not premiered until January 1957, four years after Stalin’s death.

Weinberg’s concerto doesn’t have the same grit or sardonic humour as Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto. Both were composed for Mstislav Rostropovich, but Weinberg’s has a more lyrical atmosphere, which suited Gabetta’s oaken tone very much. The opening Adagio dripped with melancholy, its lament unfolding with gentle simplicity. Gabetta was wistful in the klezmer-influenced second movement while the long, introspective cadenza in the third was nobly phrased. Dalia Stasevska shepherded the BBC Symphony – minus its double-reed contingent, Weinberg eschewing oboes and bassoons – in attentive partnership. The finale danced along, Gabetta jigging her shoulders, until the haunting return of the first movement theme, the concerto ending not with a virtuosic flourish, but an exquisite whisper. It’s not a concerto to supplant the likes of Dvořák or Elgar, but it’s an attractive, often meditative work, deserving an outing every bit as often as either of Shostakovich’s concertos. Pablo Casals’ Song of the Birds – a favourite encore of cellists – followed, Gabetta sensitively supported by three cellos from the orchestra.

Dalia Stasevska © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Dalia Stasevska
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

Like Weinberg, Stasevska was also a Proms debutante, the Finn leading her first concert as the BBCSO’s Principal Guest Conductor. She opened the concert on home soil, as it were, Sibelius’ Karelia Suite dispatched with energetic – if breathless – style, the voluminous sleeves of her long silk jacket flapping wildly. Her efforts weren’t always matched by the orchestra, the horn section particularly undistinguished.

Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique suffered a similar fate, crushed beneath a sledgehammer. Stasevska powered through the first movement, but it was impossible to tell if the overriding mood was impatience or anguish, so hectic was some of the phrasing. There were few pauses for breath in a fitful, messy performance. The 5/4 waltz was nicely restrained, but the brisk pace for the march scuppered ensemble. Her propulsive approach paid dividends in the Adagio lamentoso, surging and pulsing, fighting against the dying of the light, Stasevska finally allowing Tchaikovsky’s silences to register.

There is a place for a hyperventilated, feverish Pathétique. Teodor Currentzis’ maverick approach grips, but then in musicAeterna he has a devoted band capable of delivering in spades. Stasevska may build that relationship with the BBCSO, but in truth, it’s not in the same league.


***11