Paul KLETZKI (1900 - 1973)
Piano Concerto in D minor, op.22 (1930) (orch. John Mordine Jr) [37:24]
Three Preludes, op.4 (1923) [9:45]
Three Unpublished Piano Pieces (1940 or 1941) [8:54]
Fantasie in C minor, op.9 (1924) [19:09]
Joseph Banowetz (piano)
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Sanderling
rec. 17, 19-20 September 2006, Studio 5, Russian State TV and Radio Company KULTURA, Moscow (Concerto); 8-9 January 2007, Skywalker Sound, Marin County, California (solo works) DDD
NAXOS 8.572190 [75:12]
Like Igor Markevitch, whose own compositions are now appearing on Naxos, Paul Kletzki is best known, these days, as a conductor. Like Markevitch, he made a number of recordings, many of which are still available, and which represent a repertoire ranging from Beethoven and Chopin to Hindemith and Sibelius. The rise of Nazism brought an end, as it did for so many European musicians of the middle part of the 20th century, to his dual careers of composer (first) and conductor of his own music. He spent the war in Switzerland, residency being made possible due to his wife, Hildegaard Woodtli, being Swiss. After the war he abandoned composition, claiming that “… Hitlerism … destroyed in me the spirit and will to compose.” That may or may not be the whole truth, but certainly after the war his brand of tonal composition was no longer enjoying the favour it had done before the conflict. So he launched himself, as did Markevitch at about the same time, as a fully fledged conductor.
Until this recording came my way I’d only heard four works by Kletzki - the Third Symphony and Flute Concerto (Sharon Bezaly with the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra under Thomas Sanderling (BIS-CD-1399)) the String Quartet, op.1 (A live performance with the Blue Engine Quartet), and the Second Symphony in a radio broadcast of a CD conducted by Dmitri Kitajenko. All four works showed the hand of a talented, if not quite front rank composer, who clearly had something to say and the wherewithal to say it. Which brings us to this new CD. On the rear inlay it is claimed that the Piano Concerto is “… among the most significant twentieth-century contributions to the genre.” That’s an extravagant claim and I wondered if this was the truth - in which case here would be a true lost masterpiece - or merely a piece of record company puff. Unfortunately it’s not a lost masterpiece, and neither could it really be considered to be “… among the most significant twentieth-century contributions to the genre.” It’s certainly an interesting work, but it’s far too long for its material and the themes simply are not memorable. I wonder just how much of my dissatisfaction derives from the fact that this isn’t Kletzki’s own orchestration - the full score was unpublished and is presumed lost. I have no doubt whatsoever that this reconstruction has been undertaken with the best possible care and attention to detail, but it must be said that it isn’t particularly inspired nor does it add anything to the somewhat dull music. I fear that in this work Kletzki is going through the motions and lacks involvement.
The rest of the disk is made up of music for solo piano. The Three Preludes prove to be more engaging. The first and second have the feel of modern day (for the time) Chopin Études, and the last plays with upward-moving scale passages. The spirit of Scriabin’s chromaticism hovers over all three, perhaps too much so, for there is no real individuality here. Despite this they are good pieces, if somewhat derivative. The Three Unpublished Piano Pieces - which must be amongst Kletzki’s last compositions - speak in the same late-romantic language but with more personality and a more colourful harmonic palette, which has obviously been arrived at by the composer during the span of his compositional career.
The final work, the Fantasie in C minor, op.9, is a long, and long-winded, work. It’s a kind of Sonata in one movement, and is a very serious piece, but, on occasion, it slips into some rather banal gestures.
What can I say? This is an interesting collection of forgotten music, very well played and recorded. The liner certainly recounts Kletzki’s achievements but it doesn’t read well as a booklet note. Certainly it will interest those of us who have a need to know about composers such as Kletzki. Is the disk worth the outlay? Yes, I think it is but I doubt you’ll return to it time after time. From an historical point of view this is very interesting, from a musical point of view, less so.
Bob Briggs  

see also review by Nick Barnard