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Veprik: Orchestral works - Mueller

Veprik: Orchestral works - Mueller

MDG Scene  901 2133-6

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Veprik: Dances & Songs of the Ghetto, Op. 12, 2 Symphonic Songs, Op. 20, 5 Little Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 17, Pastorale, 2 Poems

BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Christoph-Mathias Mueller (conductor)


Soviet Stardom
Alexander Veprik was regarded as a star in the young Soviet generation of composers of which Dmitri Shostakovich was a member, and his music was enthusiastically performed even in the distant West. But then he fell into disfavor as a victim of Stalin’s anti-Semitic policies and was banned to the Gulag. His name disappeared from program pages – and has yet to reappear. Veprik’s rehabilitation is long overdue, a fact impressively demonstrated by Christoph-Mathias Mueller on this new recording with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Highly expressive melodies, compelling expressivity, and captivating tone colors will fascinate our listening audience.

Jewish Roots
Mueller’s selection consists of works from very different phases in the composer’s life. The “Five Little Pieces” as well as the “Dances and Songs of the Ghetto” play with the transmitted Eastern Jewish melodies that accompanied Veprik, who was born near Odessa, throughout his life. At the time Veprik, a professor in Moscow, was at the height of his popularity, and his pieces were even presented on one of the first music broadcasts on Radio Berlin.

Gulag Scars
After Stalin’s death, Veprik, who bore the scars of his many years of imprisonment in a labor camp, was released from the Gulag. The “Pastorale” lends expression to the pain that he had suffered and continued to feel: marked by anguish, far from any sort of bucolic idyll, the soul that speaks here has been devastated; it would like to scream but risks suffocating if it does so.

Symphonic Summit
Veprik’s last large-format orchestral work is entitled “Two Poems.” Simply marvelous, how Mueller succeeds in capturing the very personal, unique intensity of this music with his Welsh orchestra! Masterful in its instrumentation, this summit of the symphonic literature deeply and immediately moves listening audiences – especially when it is heard in the three dimensions of this high-resolution, very meticulously produced Super Audio CD.

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Review by Graham Williams - December 23, 2020

Having listened extensively to this SACD, my reaction was, why have I never heard of Alexander Veprik nor any of his compelling music before? The answer, of course, lies in the vagaries of history including the scourge of anti-Semitism that has blighted human behaviour for centuries and sadly still continues to do so.

The fulsome notes in the booklet accompanying this disc are written by Inna Klause and Jascha Nemtsov two of the main protagonists in the rediscovery of Veprik and who introduced the composer’s music to the conductor Christoph-Mathias Mueller whose enthusiasm manifests itself in his meticulous and deeply felt account of these works aided by the committed and sensitive playing he elicits from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. These notes graphically detail the composer’s tragic life story which at times reads like the scenario for a film or novel.
Though Veprik was born in 1899 (not 1889 as the MDG case and inlay title page indicates) in what is now the Ukraine. His formative years were spent initially in Warsaw and then in Leipzig. Following the outbreak of World War 1 he and his family returned to Russia and having moved from Petrograd to Moscow he completed his studies with Myaskovsky. His appointment to a teaching post at the Moscow Conservatory in 1923 led to a professorship, and for the next twenty years he was an active member of the Moscow Society for Jewish Music, at whose concerts many of his compositions were premiered. It was almost inevitable that following the Stalinist purges of the 1930s and the concomitant attacks on Jewish musical culture Veprik was dismissed from his post in 1943. In 1950 he was arrested and accused of counter-revolutionary activity including composing “Zionist music”. Following torture under interrogation he received a sentence of eight years’ hard labour in the Gulag. Fortunately Stalin’s death in 1953 led to his release in 1954 but by then his health was irreparably damaged and he died a broken man in 1958.

Thankfully, Veprik’s music performed on this impressive SACD is in sharp contrast with his harrowing life story. The first three works heard here were composed during the 1920s and 30s when Veprik’s music was beginning to receive international recognition in Western Europe and travel allowed him to establish contacts with important contemporary composers including Ravel, Hindemith and Schoenberg.

‘Dances and Songs of the Ghetto, Op.12’ is a most attractive score. It is imaginatively orchestrated and full of Jewish musical inflections in which lively dance rhythms are interspersed with more soulful passages. The ‘Two Symphonic Songs, Op.20’ that follow are both eloquent and richly melodic. The first (Song of Mourning) has a sombre mien tinged with nostalgia and a sense of nobility, while the second (Song of Joy) is an excitingly energetic allegro with a slower haunting central section.

The beguiling ‘Five Little Pieces for Orchestra, Op.17’ written in 1930 was originally titled ‘Orchestral Suite on Jewish Themes’ but with the increasingly hostile attitude from the Soviet authorities to all things Jewish its name was altered to something more innocuous. Imaginative orchestration (including two short solo clarinet cadenzas) adds to the charm of their simple melodies.

The remaining works occupy half of the disc’s total playing time of 74.51. The wistful ‘Pastorale’ with its sense of yearning and melancholy is based on the slow movement of his 2nd Symphony and was composed after Veprik’s dismissal from his teaching post. Thanks to Christoph-Mathias Mueller’s exceptionally empathetic performance it unfolds with an expressive calm tinged with a sense of loneliness. Veprik wrote The ‘Two Poems for Orchestra’ after his release from the Gulag. Both exhibit a restless poignancy in which passages of lyrical calmness are interspersed with heroic outbursts.

It is inevitable, I suppose, that similarities will be noted between the music of the ‘Two ‘Poems’ and some passages in the symphonies of Shostakovich (Veprik was born 7 years before the latter), especially in the brassy triumphant conclusion of the second ‘Poem’. This, however, in no way detracts from Veprik’s achievements in the light of his lifetime compositional output and unlikely to bother many listeners.

The recordings took place in 2019 (March 19-21) in Cardiff, and MDG’s regular Tonmeister
Friedrich Wilhelm Rödding has captured the clean acoustics of the Hoddinott Hall in a finely detailed and spacious 5.1 multi-channel recording.

I can’t recommend this recording highly enough and would and urge anyone to explore, through this excellent SACD, the rewarding music of a forgotten composer of undoubted merit.

Copyright © 2020 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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