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August KLUGHARDT (1847-1902)
Symphony No. 5 Op. 71, in C minor [38:51] In Spring, concert overture, Op. 30 [13:22]
Festive Overture, Op. 78 [9:21]
Anhalt Philharmonic/Antony Hermus
rec. 6-8 December 2011 (overtures), 19-22 November 2012 (symphony), Katharina-Saal, Stadthalle Zerbst/Anhalt, Germany CPO 777 693-2 [61:34]
August Klughardt was the court music director in Dessau in the 1890s, a time when I did not realize there were still courts with music directors. His obituary, extensively quoted in the CPO booklet, teases us for the wrong music: his contemporaries thought that his strengths were in chamber music, but here we have the Symphony No. 5. The symphony actually started off as chamber music, a string sextet for Joseph Joachim and his friends, and Joachim was a strong advocate. Audiences liked it too. Sadly for us, Klughardt decided that no other ensemble was skilled enough to play the work, so he arranged it for full symphony orchestra and added ten minutes of new material. Then somebody lost the original sextet score.
So here is a Symphony No. 5 in C minor to challenge Beethoven’s. Okay, not really. It’s a derivative, tepid piece, which at its best calls to mind the orchestration of Schumann and the low emotional stakes of Raff. Once you know it was originally a chamber piece, you hear clues everywhere: the extensive violin solos, the way that the brass usually double string parts, the overall bland orchestral sound. The piece culminates in a finale that goes on three minutes too long because of a drab academic fugue. Probably the sextet version would be pretty good. I’m convinced it could be easily reconstructed based on this symphony, and it would be more energetic and concise than this.
Better are the overtures. In Spring actually starts with a fugue, a long slow fugue with no prelude whatsoever, which is certainly surprising. Unlike many springtime pieces, there are no nature-type effects, not even birdcalls. The Festive Overture, especially, may seem generic late-romantic cheer, Meistersinger-style, but at least it’s fun and charming, with a grand ending that’s the most exciting thing on the CD.
The recorded sound is adequate, and the Anhalt Philharmonic plays perfectly well; it’s hard to imagine Klughardt’s music sounding better in any other performance. Antony Hermus, a promising young conductor, needs to update his official biography, because it feels like a metatextual joke to have the booklet for a new CPO CD of Klughardt symphonies and overtures tell us that the conductor will soon release a new CPO CD of Klughardt symphonies and overtures.
I certainly enjoyed the overtures well enough, and if you’re downloading you can save money by purchasing those by themselves. My colleague Rob Barnett liked this much more than I did.