Paul KLETZKI (1900 – 1973)
Piano Concerto in D minor Op.22 (1930)(orch. by John Norine Jr.) [37:24]
Three Preludes Op.4 (1923) [9:45]
Three Unpublished Piano Pieces (1940/41) [8:54]
Fantasie in C minor Op.9 (1924) [19:09]
Joseph Banowetz (piano)
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Sanderling
rec. Studio 5, Russian State TV & Radio Company KULTURA Moscow, 17, 19-20 September 2006 (concerto); Skywalker Sound, Marin County, California USA, 8-9 January 2007
NAXOS 8.572190

Another one for the list of conductors you didn’t realise were composers too. Timothy Jackson’s liner-note makes for very poignant reading. Although Kletzki (born in Poland as Pavel Klecki) did go on to have an important career post-War as a conductor it is hard not to come to the conclusion that his career was blighted by the rise of the Nazis. His was clearly an extraordinary talent on many musical fronts; the youngest ever member of the Lódž Symphony Orchestra (on violin at the age of 15!) he went on to become a Furtwängler protégé which led to his being the youngest ever conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic when he was just 25. With the rise of the Nazis in 1933 his career in Germany came to a swift and abrupt halt. After 1942 he seems to have stopped composing altogether and the final tragic legacy of the Nazis is that nearly all the published music of his, including the copperplates, were destroyed. There is a recording of his ‘late’ Symphony No.3 and Flute Concertino on BIS which I have not heard, also conducted by Thomas Sanderling.

The main work here is the 1930 Piano Concerto which survived in a published 2 piano 4-hand version. Hence the orchestration used here was made recently by one John Norine Jr. How conjectural the orchestration is is not clear from the liner. Having read the note before listening to the work itself I’m a little in a quandary. Jackson writes; “we may describe the extended tonal language of Kletzki’s music as a ‘super-complex tonality’ which generates highly complicated harmonic-contrapuntal textures….”. Perhaps on the page more of the tonal ambiguity is apparent – to the relatively innocent ear this is the easily approachable face of modernism. Really there is nothing here that would shock anyone attuned to Medtner. Having had an enjoyable wallow recently in great tracts of Viennese music from the likes of Zemlinsky and Korngold and Schmidt, Kletzki’s harmonic palette in comparison, sounds more traditional than any. Likewise his handling of form; this is a big work running to over thirty seven minutes in a very traditional post-Brahmsian layout. Pianist Joseph Banowetz is completely at ease with the fist-fulls of notes. Most immediately appealing is the song-like central slow movement. I would be interested to hear a work in Kletzki’s own scoring because I have a lurking suspicion that what we have here is more functional than original. The somewhat dutiful playing of the orchestra underlines this rather lacking impression. Likewise, the conducting of Sanderling keeps everything under tight if uninspired rein which results in some of the fugal passage work in the finale for example sounding more academic than wild. The engineering and production of the concerto at least is again adequate without being from the Naxos top-drawer. Perhaps greater familiarity will draw me into this work more but at the moment I would have to say that the statement on the disc cover that; “[it] may be counted among the most significant 20th Century contributions to the genre” is one I would find it impossible to agree with.

Moving onto the solo piano works which make up the other half of the disc a similar sense of good but not exceptional pervades. The Three Preludes Op.4 are well crafted and very enjoyable but if you consider the date at which they were written they sound curiously divorced from their time. In fact I’m hard pushed to think of any major composer writing in the 1920s who doesn’t sound more modern than this! Not that ‘modernism’ for modernism’s sake matters a jot – it doesn’t but such play is made in the liner of the boundaries redefined by this music that I keep waiting for the moment of revelation. The third prelude is passionately turbulent – full of the energy of the young and confident. Again praise is due to Banowetz for the easy conviction with which he plays and the technical assurance on display at every turn. The engineering of these solo works is good too – close but not clangorous. There is renewed poignancy in the Three Unpublished Piano Pieces which date from 1941. By this time Kletzki was writing for his own personal imperative. Exiled in effect in Switzerland these were written without hope of performance or publication. Which perhaps explains their simpler altogether more nostalgic tone. Their musical vocabulary is positively reactionary for the 1940s but curiously I find that Kletzki’s embracing of this superficially simpler style far more appealing. However, the disc closes with a return to the 1920’s for the substantial Fantasie in C minor Op.9. The ghosts of Busoni and Scriabin hang in the air. Although titled ‘fantasie’ Jackson considers the work as being in effect a sonata in one continuous movement with the scherzo and slow movements being inserted between the exposition and recapitulation. I’ll have to take him at his word – without a score the structure of the work is not clear and it does come across as something of a ramble, albeit a dramatic one. Again the abiding impression is of a serious questing work that feels spiritually out of kilter with the age in which it was written. Clearly the harmonic resources are of its time but somehow the essence of the actual music is not. I’m struggling to put my finger on why this music does not engage me more. Dare one speculate that for all his promise in the pre-War years ultimately Kletzki, better than anyone, realised that his voice as a composer was too divorced from the mainstream and so he turned his back on it.

Interesting and rare music but a disc for the rampantly curious only.

Nick Barnard