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Weinberg The Passenger & Symphonies

Elena Kelessidi, Michelle Breedt, Roberto Saccà, Artur Rucinski, Svetlana Doneva etc
Wiener Symphoniker/Currentzis

NEOS 51005

Symphony 6 & Sinfonietta 1
NEOS 11125
Symphony 17 NEOS 11126

Further to our reservations about The Passenger at ENO, we have received for review the DVD of the Bregenz Festival production, together with two CDs of his symphonies which were also featured at Bregenz 2010.

We found The Passenger, sung in German and Russian, far more involving on a large screen TV at home than it was in the vastness of The Coliseum, and the quality of the singing and acting at Bregenz was distinctly superior.

The balance for us was tipped by the filming. With many close ups it was very much an opera film, with litte sense of theatre. The finely balanced sound recording for the DVD contributed powerfully, the whole making for greater involvement and a powerful emotional impact, which we simply had not experienced at ENO.

The "is she?/isn't she?" uncertainty about the identity of the veiled passenger at ENO is resolved on screen, with Martha's face seen clearly, endorsing the New York Times review
" - - The core of the drama is Lisa’s step-by-step realization that the passenger is indeed Martha - - Elena Kelessidi’s radiant soprano communicated Martha’s reserves of psychological strength, and the mezzo Michelle Breedt excelled as the guilt-plagued Lisa" [George Lumis].

David Pountney’s staging at Bregenz’s festival house, "a sleek modern theater of traditional size", on Johan Engels’s three-level design, is faithful to both libretto and music, which they entirely vindicate.

Sung in German and Russian - Lisa, Walter and other Germans sang in a German translation of Alexander Medvedev’s Russian-language libretto - the Bregenz performances were superbly cast and excellently conducted by Teodor Currentzis. The 150-page booklet is exemplary, with full libretti in several languages (sometimes the subtitles on screen are white on white and a little hard to read).

This DVD will surely prompt exploration of others of Weinberg's seven operas...

Symphony No.6 has three of its five movements sung by boys choir to very touching poems The little fiddle; A ditch dug in red clay; Sleep people. The words are essential, but not provided in the notes with the CD. Neos kindly supplied them for me as .pdf in the original Cyrillic Russian, German and English; helpful, but really they need to be set out in parallel, and with timings, to help non-Russian speakers to follow the Russian. Maybe NEOS might add them on their website, which Naxos does so helpfully with opera libretti

The sombre No. 17 is the first of a trilogy The Threshold of War, dealing with Weinberg's memories as a Polish Jew, the sole survivor of the Holocaust in his family, who had found a new home in the Soviet Union, only to suffer there too from anti-semitism.

The symphonies we have heard are powerful and strikingly varied; sufficient to suggest that a Weinberg cycle in London might be viable - Gergiev & the LSO?

Peter Grahame Woolf

Reviews of the Bregenz production: