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Paul von KLENAU (1883-1946)
String Quartets: No. 1 in E minor (1911) [24:07]; No. 2 (1942) [19:00]; No. 3 (1943) [27:04]
Sjaelland String Quartet
rec. Mariendalskirken, Frederickberg, February-March 2008. DDD
DACAPO 8.226075 [70:11] 


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Paul von Klenau was born in
Copenhagen and studied with Otto Malling (Copenhagen), Max Bruch (Berlin), Ludwig Thuille (Munich) and Max von Schillings (Stuttgart). He wrote three twelve-tone operas: Michael Kohlhaas (1932-33), Rembrandt van Rijn (1934-35) and Elisabeth von England (1939). From then onwards he wrote a further opera and his symphonies 5 to 9.

His First numbered string quartet is in four movements. It is romantic, suave, sincere and blithely accomplished. With a singing manner it is typical of the first and second quartets of Frank Bridge and of Bax's First. This engaging grand manner sometimes recalls a sort of updated take on the Smetana First Quartet. It is all very pleasing and by no means autopilot stuff. The reference to Bridge is not inapt. Von Klenau's second and third quartets are twelve-tone pieces as are the much earlier Bridge Third and Fourth. Each of the Danish composer's final two quartets is in four movements. The Second Quartet was written in Copenhagen in 1942. It is a work of passionate expression, of tender yet tense meditation and in its third movement manages to be both spiky and sometimes voluptuously romantic. Its finale has a decidedly fugal component. It appears troubled - certainly far from placid. At the close it returns to tonality as does the second movement. The closure is pleasing but the resolution seems fragile – dubious even. The Third is the longest of the three and was written in Frankfurt-am-Main and Copenhagen. It makes inventive use of dissonance. The full-tilt first movement carries a sense of schadenfreude - there is delight to be found in disaster if it is far enough distant. The following Ruhig fließend sings in the chains of fear. A short, determined and emotionally gritty third movement makes way for a bat-wing finale that transforms by the moment from the moods associated with dissonance to lyrically eruptive expression. As with the Second Quartet, von Klenau falters through his occasionally indulged predilection for fugal episodes. Yet the close of the Third is done with considerable flair. 

Thanks to Dacapo and the Sjaelland for this revival of quartets lyrical and dissonant. I trust that Dacapo have not finished with the von Klenau symphonies.

Rob Barnett


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