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Paul GRAENER (1872-1944)
Cello Concerto, Op.78 (1927) [15:45]
Violin Concerto, Op.104 (1937) [24:30]
Flute Concerto, Op.116 (1944) [15:40]
Uladzimir Sinkevich (cello)
Henry Raudales (violin)
Christiane Dohn (flute)
Munich Radio Orchestra/Ulf Schirmer
rec. 2014, Studio 1, BR Munich, Bavarian Radio
CPO 777 965-2 [56:20]

The music of Paul Graener has been gaining traction on CPO and this is now the fourth volume in its series. There’s plenty of biographical information to be gleaned in reviews of the first two volumes and the third volume.

The three concertos in this disc are programmed in opus order, so we begin with the Cello Concerto of 1927 dedicated to his great friend, the eminent cellist Paul Grümmer. It’s written for solo cello and chamber orchestra, amongst which there’s a piano. The writing seems to reflect characteristics of the composer noted by the cellist in autobiographical reflections written many years later; its opening movement is slightly quirky in a four-square sort of way, and there are light-hearted passages that establish a phlegmatic, droll quality dispelled by the central slow movement. This reflects Graener’s more introverted side and is a rather lovely songful movement with slight impressionist hues in the orchestra, behind the cello’s lied. Whereas in the finale we’re back to the Graener that Grümmer described during boating trips on Berlin’s lakes; full of jokes and whimsy. This is a larky Tarantella with serio-comic wind interjections and forceful percussion but one can’t help feel this is more concertante writing than concerto and that, overall, the impression is more of a Suite than a Concerto.

By the time he wrote the 1937 Violin Concerto, Graener was established as a functionary in the Reich Chamber of Music. Public performances of his music therefore increased. Knut Andreas rhapsodizes the work, calling it Graener’s ‘creative pinnacle’. It’s certainly a work of rich, unyielding lyricism, lingeringly romantic and passionate. Some of the brass writing imparts Wagnerian gravitas and breadth, though somewhat pomposo in context, perhaps. But the hauntingly voiced solo violin writing in the slow movement and the orchestra’s Narcissus-like reflections are powerful examples of Graener’s elevated qualities, as is the triumphant swagger of the finale with its powerful cadenza. True, the material is not especially varied but it’s all very engaging.

Graener was bombed out of his home in Berlin during the War but the blithe innocence of the 1944 Flute Concerto reflects no such shadows. Its neo-baroque clarity, folkloric whistling and play of bucolic horns against the fragile protagonist suggest an Elysian escape from all reality, a retreat into pure beauty. Elegant roulades balance eloquent simplicity with a cadenza offering a brief lark-like virtuoso flourish.

The performances by the three soloists are refined, sensitive and thoroughly sympathetic. Ulf Schirmer directs admirably too, in a finely judged studio recording, proving a laudable exponent of Graener’s music.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Rob Barnett

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