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Paul KLETZKI (1900-1973)
Symphony No. 2 in G minor, Op. 18 (1926) [45:24]
Czesław MAREK (1891-1985)
Sinfonia, Op. 28 (1928) [27:28]
Mariusz Godlewski (baritone)
Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Rösner
rec. June 2016 (Kletzki); September 2016 (Marek), NOSPR Konzerthalle, Kattowitz, Poland,

The pairing of these two Polish composers couldn't be more apposite. They were roughly contemporary, and frequented the same musical circles in Warsaw. Both studied in Germany, and later fled to Switzerland during the war. Unique circumstances forced both men to abandon composition in their early forties. Yet, despite their parallel existences, the two never met.

Pavel Klecki, who later 'Germanized' his name to become Paul Kletzki, was one of a number of conductors whose compositional careers were overshadowed by their distinguished reputations on the podium. Wilhelm Furtwängler, Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer all produced symphonies, which are very rarely performed today. Enterprising labels such as CPO have made admirable strides of late to help redress the balance. With this latest release from Musiques Suisses we now have recordings of two of Kletzki's symphonies; his Symphony No. 3 was released by BIS in 2004. Never having heard the Third Symphony, I'm not in a position to offer comparisons.

The reasons for Kletzki abandoning composition in 1942 were probably manifold. By 1942 he had no doubt set his sights on a conducting career — both Furtwängler, and later Toscanini had provided encouragement — but lack of inspiration was more likely the cause. As a Polish Jew, the rise of Hitler had profound consequences for him, and he was later to discover the tragic fate of his family in the Holocaust; only his brother survived. His depression during these dark years resulted in a creative block, and he never returned to composing again. He was in his mid-twenties when he wrote his Symphony No. 2 in G minor. It conforms to the traditional four movement pattern, and one discerns echoes of Mahler in its late Romantic thrust. The first movement is in sonata form, and the opening measures seem resolute and determined. There was one point about seven minutes in which reminded me of Strauss's Till Eulenspiegel. Kletzki shows a deft hand at orchestration, with each section of the orchestra given its opportunity to shine. It's the beautiful slow movement which is the highlight for me. Lushly romantic and warmly lyrical it makes for a pleasing listen. The genial Scherzo's chirpy woodwind passages are also a delight. In the fourth movement, the composer sets a poem by the Swiss Expressionist writer Karl Stamm (1890-1919):

Sleep, sleep, o world!
Silently the night approaches.
All desire is silent
And fulfil the time’.

It is sung here in German by the baritone Mariusz Godlewski, whose clear diction, immaculate delivery and rich tone secures favourable results. The booklet provides the German text, but with no translation unfortunately.

Although Polish-born, Czesław Marek spent the majority of his life in Switzerland. He studied music in Vienna with some of the big names around at the time: the piano with Theodor Leschetizky and composition with Karl Weigl and later, in Strasbourg, with Hans Pfitzner. In 1915 he relocated to Zürich, taking Swiss citizenship in 1932. He became a close friend of Busoni and married the violinist Claire Hofer. Early on, he carved out a career as a travelling piano virtuoso, but gradually abandoned this to compose and teach. In 1935 he gave up composition altogether, restricting himself to pedagogical activities for the remainder of his life. Marek's music has been recorded on various Guild discs (orchestral ~ chamber ~ piano).

Marek's one-movement Sinfonia, Op. 28 won second prize at the International Schubert Competition of 1928 - jury members included Carl Nielsen and Alexander Glazunov. Following some favourable critiques in the press, it initially received several performances. Not easily accessible, it was only after several listenings that I began fully to appreciate its positive attributes.

It's an ambitious score, a single movement of almost thirty minutes duration. Marek harnesses large orchestral forces for this lushly opulent panoramic vista. The opening bars herald an awakening or coming to life. As the music gathers pace there are moments of potent dramatic impact. Occasionally Polish folk tunes show their hand. His imaginative mood depiction and dramatic pacing secures the work's success. Thomas Rösner's adroit contouring of the ebb and flow of the music and mastery of climax building offers logic and clarity to this complex structure. At the end, everything returns to slumber and the arc is complete with a sense of inevitability prevailing.

Thomas Rösner's stellar performances of these relatively unknown works will win over many. He achieves ravishing playing from the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, revealing the inner detail of these captivating scores. The engineers' securing of high-impact sound in a spacious and warmly resonant acoustic is another positive factor, showcasing this music at its best. The annotations in German, French and English set the works in a biographical and historical context. I would urge all who are willing to push the boat out a little not to hesitate.

Stephen Greenbank