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Paul von KLENAU (1883-1946)
Symphony No. 9 (1945) [88:49]
Cornelia Ptassek (soprano); Susanne Resmark (mezzo-soprano); Michael Weinius (tenor); Steffen Bruun (bass)
Danish National Concert Choir; Danish National Symphony Orchestra/Michael Schønwandt
rec. live, DR Konserthuset, Copenhagen, 20-21 March 2014
DACAPO 8.226098-99 [46:03 + 41:24]

Klenau wrote nine symphonies; more than any other Dane apart from Rued Langgaard. The first four numbered symphonies date from 1907-39 and were preceded by an incomplete example.

Radio broadcasts over the decades have introduced us to various Klenau works. Cornelis; Song from the opera Rembrandt Van Rijn (1937¸Seidler-Winkler, Berlin State Opera Orchestra/Wittrisch), Gesprache mit dem Tod (1915, Valdes/Sonderjyllands SO/E Paaske) and Symphonies 5 (1939) and 7 Stormsinfonien (1941) (Aarhus ByOrkester/Josef Hrnčcir and Sonderjyllands SO/Carl Von Garaguly, respectively). Earlier DaCapo CDs have held the door open for listeners to the string quartets, Rilke setting and symphonies 1 and 5 (review review) and 7 (review).

The manuscript of the Ninth Symphony disappeared in the wake of World War Two until 2001 when it came to light among a large cache of Klenau manuscripts in Vienna. In March 2014, after extensive editing by The Royal Library in Copenhagen, it received its premiere by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Schønwandt. The DaCapo notes make something of the work's atonal pages and even twelve-tone passages. In fact, the effect is about as revolutionary as Havergal Brian's Gothic Symphony. The music is not difficult in that sense and can be come to terms with if you can accept say Pfitzner's Von Deutsche Seele or Schmidt's Das Buch Mit Sieben Siegeln.

The lucid and communicative liner-notes for the present issue are by Niels Krabbe and are in English and Danish. They assure us that the works before the Fifth (1940) are only available in incomplete versions and that the Fourth may be one and the same as a Dante Symphony. The symphonies 5-9 were written during 1940-46 following the composer's return to Denmark after many years in Germany.

The Ninth dates from 1945. Its eight movements were written between January and November of that year but not in the order indicated in the score. He composed this epic length work at speed and was to die within seven months of completing it. It was his last work.

This colossal symphony is apportioned across two discs - four movements per CD. The furiously seething and plunging purely orchestral Allegro (strange marking for such an occluded mood) bushes aside any hint of uncertainty. One can associate the apocalyptic tone of this music with the then-current events and the composer's presumed disappointment and disillusion. Even so it has its pensive moments (sometimes fugal) although they tend towards chill. From time to time the music finds reason to be sanguine (5:50) but Klenau never navigates far from the sort of rugged bristling resentment that overflows Brahms' First Piano Concerto and Bruckner's Eighth Symphony.

The Requiem movement (II) (with choir and soloists) is rapt and imposing, intimate at times, wild and woolly, massive and quietly conversational and healingly self-contained. It has more sun in its sinews than its purely orchestral predecessor. Its followed by an Allegro molto vivace (III) which carries some of the same sense encountered in Nielsen's First Symphony. It rises at 2:25 to something close to a hymn but the moment comes and goes in a glimmering instant. The movement ends on a positive upbeat. The Andante (IV) again features the choir and solo voices. It's ambitious in its aims and its achievement. The words it sets include "dreaming of heroic deeds" and "reverence for life is reverence for God". There are again some fugal sections (11:14) but these elevate rather than negate the feeling that great things are afoot. The movement ends in a dazzling crash and in fanfares that proclaim more is to come.

The all-orchestral fifth movement has a largeness of conception and an easeful flow caught between Schubert and Mendelssohn. It is also reminiscent of the romantic style of Louis Glass and of Franz Schmidt - pre-eminently Schmidt's riverine lyrical Second Symphony. Klenau’s hard-wired sympathy for the Germanic romantic ethos is evident. He had, after all, lived for much of his life in Germany and his sympathies had him identifying with the cultural ideals espoused by the Nazis. This did his reputation enduring harm and that morbid legacy lives on.

The sixth movement opens with a nobilmente with a tragic droop and a soft majestic role for the trumpet. This, for a moment, had me thinking of Schmidt's Fourth Symphony. The music becomes increasingly passionate then falls away after an ascent into blue skies and a mood between mourning and consolation. Elgarians will recognise it.

The seventh movement - running to just 1:27 - sees the return of the choir in a penitent Misericordia which is nonetheless fervent.

The finale extends its wings to nineteen minutes. The pages of downbeat trumpet solos and evocations of dazzling light alternate with joyous episodes for the soloists and full choir singing at melting heat. It's all rather Beethovenian in its celebrations of joy. The concatenating glorias impress, as does the magical trumpet solo into which they subside. The Delian radiance of it all recalls A Mass of Life. Some fugal writing is made to 'bounce' rather than suffer from convulsions destined for rigor mortis. Klenau strove with human musical limitations to capture hope in eternity and belief in the Deity. His setting of the less obvious words ends his productive output with the words "Glory in the highest. Glory / A star is shining. A star." His aims were clearly no less exalted than those of Beethoven in his last symphony.

Chris Hazell undertook production of this recording and the results are good but tend towards keeping a grip on the wide cavernous acoustic rather than zooming close to the detail of what is going on - and there is a lot going on.

Klenau sets Latin words throughout and these are reproduced at the back of the booklet with a parallel English translation.

We can now look forward, in the leisurely long term, to hearing pioneering recordings of Klenau's symphonies 6 and 8. There's nothing in this Ninth to discourage appreciation of von Klenau's achievement or further exploration.

Rob Barnett


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