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Dmitri Lvovich KLEBANOV (1907-1987)
Chamber Works
String Quartet No 4 (1946) [16.41]
Piano Trio No. 2 (1958) [30.40]
String Quartet No 5 (1965) [25.43]
ARC Ensemble
rec. 5-7 January 2021, Koerner Hall, TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning, The Royal Conservatory of Music, Canada
Premier recordings
CHANDOS CHAN20231 [73.20]

Would this be your first encounter with the Ukrainian composer Dmitri Klebanov? It certainly is for me, and on hearing the first moment of the String Quartet No 4 I was immediately captivated as it was a rendition, at first, of the famous ‘Carol of the Bells’ followed by other folk-like material.

There is a political dimension to this work; you can see that this disc comes in Chandos’ series ‘Composers in Exile’. The ‘Carol of the Bells’, as we now know it, was composed by the Klebanov’s fellow Ukrainian Mykola Leontovych and the quartet is dedicated to his memory - but bearing in mind that Leontovych had been murdered by the state police because of his separatist views, Klebanov was taking something of a risk. Other melodies are by Leontovych, or informed by them. The melancholy second movement opens with one and the light-hearted pizzicato third uses Leontovych’s Dudaryk, named after the Bulgarian and Hungarian bagpipe. Despite this tragic background the work is easily assimilated and very attractive.

Of course, you might not have come across Klebanov, a Ukrainian-Jew, because as far as the outside world was concerned, his music was first in danger of being suppressed even from the late 1920’s, and afterwards, in more so-called enlightened times, of being perceived as rather ‘old-hat’ and irrelevant. Even so, he knew Shostakovich well and, to a certain extent, was influenced by him. The String Quartet No. 5, written twenty years after No. 4, proves this, and also portrays a man with a musical voice which is clearly his own and with which he is able to experiment much more confidently.

The work falls into three movements and shows an interest in bi-tonality and a stretching of harmony into quite ambiguous realms at times - for example, in the middle movement. Its main melody may well be inspired by folk music but is rather hidden behind searching and almost astringent harmonies and is full of “bold gestures” as Simon Wyberg comments in his fascinating booklet essay. One feels, however, that Hungarian folk melodies lie somewhere behind the melodic contours and I am reminded occasionally of Bartok. Each movement is divided into various subsections dependent on tempi.

This work is worth several hearings, as it is emotionally charged and mysteriously beautiful by turns, casting a distinct mood that lingers after the final bars.

But, to backtrack, Klebanov’s 1st Symphony was banned after its successful performance because it was perceived as having a strong Jewish musical content and he lost his position as Head of the Kharkiv branch of the Composers’ Union. He might even have been imprisoned, had it not been for his wife’s intervention. He probably felt that by the 1950’s his best way forward was to please the musical and, possibly, the political, authorities. It is in that context that one should listen to the Piano Trio No 2. It is an almost brashly Romantic work but, and I do agree with Wynberg, that it is a very fine one. I quote his notes: It is “big-boned…. containing captivating themes, and employing a much-expanded harmonic palette”. There is a “passionate opening Allegro moderato, a madcap Scherzo, a gorgeous Mahlerian Adagio…. And an exhilarating opening gallop to the concluding Allegro”; however, this movement does end reflectively. Regarding how it sounds, I hear Shostakovich in the rhythms and even Martinu in its melodies.

This is music that is worth the time given to it by all concerned, not the least by you, the listener. Klebanov should be better known and perhaps Chandos or some other company will take a serious look at his symphonies and concertos.

Isn’t it wonderful when what appears to be a new and neglected voice pops up with such passionate and committed performances and such a fine and immediate recording!

Gary Higginson


Erika Raum (violin);Marie Berard (violin); Steven Dann (viola); Thomas Wiebe (cello); Kevin Ahfat (piano)   

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