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Orchestral Works

String Quartets Vol 1



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Paul GRAENER (1872-1944)
Orchestral Works - Volume 1
Comedietta, Op. 82 (1928) [9:25]
Variationen über ein russisches Volkslied, Op. 55 (1917) [24:26]
Musik am Abend, Op. 44 (1913) [14:12]
Sinfonia breve, Op. 96 (1932) [17:48]
NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover/Werner Andreas Albert
rec. Großer Sendesaal, NDR Hannover, 19-23 Jan 2009
CPO 777 447-2 [66:00] 

Orchestral Works - Volume 2
Symphony in D Minor, Op. 39, Schmied Schmerz (1912) [32:34]
Aus dem Reiche des Pan Op. 22 (1906-20) [15:17]
Variationen uber Prinz Eugen, Op. 108 (1939) [16:06]
NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover/Werner Andreas Albert
rec. Großer Sendesaal, NDR Hannover, 24-28 Jan 2011
CPO 777 679-2 [64:21]

Graener, who made his career for many years in the world of English music theatre and became and remained a British subject, rose to prominence in the Nazi Reichsmusikkammer. He had joined the Nazi party in 1933. It can come as a little surprise then that his music largely vanished after 1945. This invisibility was compounded by his death in 1944 and the destruction of many of his manuscripts in the bombing of Berlin. There is a Paul Graener website if you would like to delve further.
I first encountered his name and music from some rather dim and distant sounding tapes of Two Swedish Dances and a Vienna Symphony sent to me by the late Richard D C Noble, always a generous sharer of obscurities. Graener’s 15-minute tone poem The Flute of Sanssouci was championed at one time by Toscanini and his NBC broadcast in 1938 was issued by Dell’Arte (DA9024). More recently the ever-inspired, ever-questing Sterling issued the first all-Graener anthology and included the Sanssouci work and the Vienna Symphony. His piano trio works can be found on another CPO CD.
On the evidence of these two fairly well filled CDs Graener was no iconoclast. The music is idyllically conservative: essentially nineteenth century romantic but with lightened transparent textures. There’s little Brahmsian coagulation here. Also common to these scores is a grace - something close to kindliness. There are moments when you catch yourself thinking that here is a twentieth century Schubert but with cross-currents from Siegfried Wagner and occasionally from Richard Strauss.
I had expected crashing and rushing music from the Comedietta but instead we get a smiling and musing light-spirited fantasy with Fauré-like overtones. The Russian folksong forming the subject of the Variations Op. 55 is none other than The Song of the Volga Boatmen - the same tune that puts in an appearance in Glazunov’s Stenka Razin. The variations maintain that light touch without being trivial. I had half expected something Regerian but this is mostly fairy-dust and imagination. Not to say that there are not graver moments such as the Lento variation (tr. 7) although even that episode plays under a gentle illuminating moon. Presumably it was a coincidence that this work dates from the year of the Russian Revolution.
Musik am Abend again picks up on that tender wistful Gallic enchantment. It’s poetic, coaxing and caressing - almost but not quite in the same vein as Bantock’s Pierrot of the Minute or Ravel’s Ma Mère l’Oye. The Sinfonia breve is in three short movements: the flanks being heavy with the sort of defiant neo-baroque grandeur beloved of Stokowski in his transcriptions while the central chapter is serenely romantic.
Volume 2 starts with a half-hour Symphony (Sorrow the Blacksmith) in three movements. The big opening Larghetto is starrily dreamy and emotionally in turmoil. It comes close to sounding like Brahms and Elgar with a dash of Richard Strauss. The writing for the violins is especially striking. The pensive Adagio is no stranger to storms; even anger. The finale is an Allegro Energico with a Brucknerian theme that is determined, distinctive and positive. This romping theme goes through various transformations towards steadily glowing serenity and peace. This work together with the Symphonietta for Strings and the symphonic poem From Valleys and Heights owes its existence to the tragic death of Graener’s eight year-old son in London during the composer’s sojourn there as a theatre conductor.
The op. 108 Variations take as their subject the German folksong Prinz Eugen, der edle Ritter. This 16-minute work is given in a single track and indeed plays uninterrupted and without obvious seams. The music is reminiscent of Strauss again - this time the dreamier aspects of Rosenkavalier. There is also some aggressive melodrama as at 9:55 with the assertive rattling of the side-drum, a fugal element and some discomfiting militaristic bombast towards the end. The Variationen uber Prinz Eugen and the Feierliche Stunde were written for the Reich Music Festivals of 1938 and 1939.
The four movements of Aus dem Reiche des Pan are:-

I. Pan traumt im Mondlicht [2:48]
II. Pan singt von der Sehnsucht [1:50]
III. Pan tanzt [3:18]
IV. Pan singt das Welt-Wiegenlied [7:21]
Here we are back in the realm of Musik am Abend and Comedietta. Crudely characterised, you can hear this music as a German impressionistic mix with Bantock’s idyllic Mediterranean classical era works such as Sappho Fragments, Pagan Symphony and Aphrodite in Crete. The Pan tanzt movement has a strong Straussian accent but with the sort of light-footed quality you find in Bax’s Spring Fire and Dance in the Sunlight. The sun permeates the melancholy reflections of the final movement which is longer than the other three movements put together. It ends roundedly in a long sustained breath.
All in all Graener’s music is not easily dismissed - much as received wisdom might like to for non-musical reasons. His music merits further exploration. The dark and eloquent accents of the Symphony Schmied Schmerz are striking. As for his impressionistic works such as Comedietta, Aus dem Reiche des Pan and Musik am Abend, these are well worth hearing again and again.  

Rob Barnett