- Children's Songs, for voice & piano, Op. 13
- Beyond the Border of Past Days, song cycle for voice & piano, Op. 50
- Rocking the Child, song cycle for voice & piano, Op. 110
The music of Soviet-era Polish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg is undergoing a renaissance, not only owing to interest in his close connection to Dmitry Shostakovich, but in the remarkably high quality of the work itself. Three of Weinberg's song cycles are surveyed in Toccata Classics' Mieczyslaw Weinberg: Complete Songs, Vol. 1, featuring soprano Olga Kalugina and mezzo-soprano Svetlana Nikolayeva, singers who have already distinguished themselves through their contributions to Toccata's Grammy-nominated Balakirev and Russian Folksong. The cycles heard here represent a wide span within Weinberg's output: "Children's Songs, Op. 13" (1943); "Beyond the Border of Past Days, Op. 50" (1951); and "Rocking the Child, Op. 110" (1973). Although Weinberg explores the theme of children in the outer cycles, these are not "children's songs," but serious and deeply felt works for adults; "Grief (The Orphan's Letter)" recounts the searing tale of a homeless child whose mother has died, "No roof above me...give me shelter, for God's sake...." This music is suitably grave and heart-wrenching, though that is but one aspect of Weinberg's text setting; a sort of joyful ambivalence pervades "In the Twilight" in the Op. 50 set, whereas simple, lyric melancholy typifies "And I am not alone" from the Op. 110. Weinberg knew to pick his texts well -- "Beyond the Border of Past Days" is drawn from the work of Aleksandr Blok, a key Russian symbolist whose work transits from romantic to the modern; Gabriela Mistral's poetry is pressed into service, in Russian translation, in "Rocking the Child." Apart from a tough period in the early '50s when he was under the scrutiny of the NKVD, Weinberg was a celebrated figure in Soviet music, but his work seldom exceeded the borders of the Soviet world. Nevertheless, he was doing much the same thing as Barber, Britten, and Rorem within the realm of art song, concentrating on the voice, maintaining a coherent melody, and using a relatively uncomplicated accompaniment. Geared toward communication and built to last, these song cycles are not intellectual but visceral, similar in tone to Mussorgsky's cycles but with a more advanced sense of harmony and far more stylistically polished. A slight Hebraic accent surfaces in a couple of points among these three cycles, even as the poets of the first two cycles were Jewish and the original source of the first cycle written in Yiddish; Weinberg knew his limits, and one wonders to what extent such restrictions played a role in the finished product. Nevertheless, "finished" they are, the resultant cycles delivering in terms of control, mastery and drama. The singing of Kalugina and Nikolayeva is consistently lovely and never forced; accompanist Dmitry Korostelyov keeps things tasteful and restrained, which matters, particularly in the "Beyond the Border of Past Days" cycle, as Weinberg's accompaniment for this cycle is unusually skeletal and understated.