KLENAU: Symphony No. 1 in F Minor. Symphony No. 5 "Triptikon." Paolo und Francesca.
Odense Symphony Orch/Jan Wagner, cond.
DA CAPO 224134 (F) (DDD) TT: 69:08

KLENAU:  Symphony No. 7 "Die Sturmsymphonic."  Klein Idas Blumen.  Gespräche mit dem Tod (Susanne Resmark, alto).  Jahrmarkt bei London
(Susanne Resmark, alto [Gespräche mit dem Tod]; Odense Symphony Orch/Jan Wagner, cond.
DA CAPO 8.224183 (F) (DDD) TT:  76:23


Danish composer Paul von Klenau (1883-1946) is a name new to me. German influence was strong throughout Klenau's life, both politically and musically. He moved to Berlin in 1902 for studies (including composition with Max Bruch and Max von Schillings) not returning to Denmark until 1940. This Germanic association was detrimental to his career and reputation in his native country, a situation not helped by the fact he openly critized Danish music of the time as being unimaginative and old-fashioned. Klenau founded the Danish Philharmonic Society in Copenhagen and conducted music of Debussy, Ravel, Scriabin and Delius as well as Schoenberg, whom he particularly admired. Klenau was a strong advocate of twelve-tone music; his opera Die Königin presented at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen in 1941, was the first twelve-tone opera staged there.

Klenau composed nine symphonies although scores for the last two are privately owned by the composer's grandchild in Vienna. Symphony 8 supposedly is "in the old style" and Symphony 9 has eight movements, several with Latin texts. Symphony No. 5, composed in 1939 and subtitled Triptikon, has three movements with a total performance time of less than 12 minutes. It surely is of more interest than Symphony No. 1, a late Romantic work that has little to say although orchestration includes eight French horns, an organ, four tubas,and two harps. The "symphonic fantasy after Dante's Inferno Canto V, Paolo und Francesca," is a far cry from Tchaikovsky's intensely dramatic symphonic poem on the same subject, Francesca di Rimini, written in 1876. Klenau's musical vision of hell is tame indeed, the "love music" unsensual.

Interest increases with the second CD. Klenau's Symphony No. 7, subtitled "Die Sturmsymphonie," was written in 1941. It opens dramatically with soaring strings punctuated by heavy brass chords. The surging, minor-key textures remind me of the first symphony of Estonian composer Kaljo Raid (REVIEW) - which is quite a compliment. The two other orchestral works on this CD show the lighter side of the composer. Little Ida's Flowers, a "ballet overture" based on Hans Christian Andersen, was published in 1916; Bankholiday - Souvenir of Hampstead Heath dates from 1923. The latter is a rather long (17:48) "orchestral fantasia" with a brief sung part which can be performed either by a boy or a contralto (on this recording Sidse Abel is the contralo). Bankholiday is quite descriptive beginning with a dull, rainey, foggy morning, after which the town awakens, a fair begins and the evening is spent in dancinghalls.

The gem of this well-filled CD (76:23) is Gespräche mit dem Tod (Conversations with Dead), composed in 1916, six songs to texts by German author and poet Rudolf Binding (1867-1938) all dealing with death in a positive, realistic way. The relationship between these songs and Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde composed about eight years earlier is obvious, with opulent scoring. Alto Susanne Resmark, aside from a few strained fortissimo high notes, is splendid. Complete texts, in German, English and Danish, are provided. The Odense Symphony Orchestra under Jan Wagner is first-rate, as they were in their recent issue on Bridge of orchestral music of Villa-Lobos (REVIEW). Engineering also is very fine, with a big, resonant sonic picture.

R.E.B. (May 2003)