Von Klenau on Dacap C

Review by: David Hurwitz

Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 9

Danish composer Paul von Klenau spent most of his career in Germany, where he was (among other things) a noted conductor, pupil of Max von Schillings, and friend of Alban Berg. His First Symphony (1908) is a luscious, typical late-Romantic confection that has a much-higher-than-average level of thematic and orchestral interest. Exuberantly scored for a large ensemble–including harps, eight horns, Wagner tubas, organ, and extra percussion–it’s much less inhibited than many contemporary German works and features all the usual items: majestic chorales for brass, chromatic “love music” for strings, stormy climaxes, an intimate adagio, a rustic, clunky scherzo, and a transfigured finale. Unusually, though, for a work if its type, none of its movements, not even the finale, overstays its welcome; the piece really is beautifully proportioned. The symphonic poem Paolo and Francesca illustrates the same subject (from Dante) as Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini. Klenau doesn’t have the Russian composer’s melodic gift, but he’s not too far behind, and the orchestration is very atmospheric in a decadent sort of way. In fact, this work bears a close resemblance in tone and mood to another Russian masterpiece, Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead.

The Fifth Symphony, three movements in less than 12 minutes, is so empty, vapid, and pointless as to cast doubt on its being the work of the same composer. Evidently something happened between the early decades of the 20th century and 1939, the year of its composition, and the liner notes are silent as to what this was. In any case, the best performance here is the tone poem. The Odense Symphony simply doesn’t have the chops for the First Symphony, offering tentative brass playing and thin strings that aren’t always together. You certainly get a sense of the work; enough to know that it would sound splendid in a first rate performance, and dacapo’s sonics are excellent. Despite these reservations, Klenau is a must for devotees of good quality late-Romantic orchestral stuff. I’d like to hear more of him, better played.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

PAUL VON KLENAU - Symphonies Nos. 1 & 5; Paolo and Francesca

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