Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, January 2011

Having been mightily impressed by a recording of Paul Kletzki’s Third Symphony and Flute Concertino on a BIS CD reviewed in Fanfare 28:3, I requested to review this new Naxos release of the composer’s works, figuring if I ended up not liking it, I’d have only myself to blame. As it turned out, I did like what I heard, quite a lot in fact. Kletzki (1900–73) was one of a handful of composers-turned-conductors who was at least as talented, if not more so, at creating his own music as he was at re-creating the music of others.

The 30-year-old Jewish Kletzki was still living in Germany when he wrote his D-Minor Piano Concerto in 1930. The piece was fully orchestrated by the composer, but it was published only in a two-piano version; and subsequently, it’s believed, the full score was destroyed during the Hitler regime, which explains the new orchestration by John Norine Jr.

Kletzki was either incredibly naive or incredibly unlucky. He fled from Nazi Germany to Italy, only to end up in the anti-Semitic hotbed of Mussolini’s Fascists. From that kettle he jumped into the frying pan of Soviet Russia during Stalin’s Great Terror. He finally found freedom from persecution in Switzerland, where he sought refuge in 1936, but not from the years of wandering that still lay ahead. Over the course of nearly the next four decades, Kletzki accepted appointments to lead orchestras in the U.K. (the Liverpool Philharmonic), the U.S. (the Dallas Symphony Orchestra), Israel (the Israel Philharmonic), Italy (La Scala), and Switzerland (the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and later the Suisse Romande Orchestra), but the engagements never turned into long-term, permanent marriages. Having lost several family members in the Holocaust, Kletzki lost his will to compose and wrote nothing further after 1942.

The loss is ours. Despite its overlay of “adventurous” harmonies, piquant dissonances, and complex rhythms, the Piano Concerto is, at its core, a deeply romantic and profoundly moving work. I’d go so far as to call it a masterpiece. To describe its general style and sound, I’d have to say that Prokofiev’s piano concertos are to the fore. Similarities abound in passages of percussive keyboard writing and lyrical melodies intentionally soured by passing bitonal harmonic progressions. But Kletzki is not quite as acerbic as Prokofiev can be at his most caustic, and Kletzki’s concerto contains many other extended passages that could pass for moments out of Miklós Rósza’s score to Ben-Hur. I wouldn’t quite put this piece in the grand virtuoso piano concerto tradition of Polish composers Moszkowski and Paderewski (Kletzki was also of Polish birth); it’s too late for that, as it is for Rachmaninoff. But it seems to inhabit a world somewhere between them and the concertos of Prokofiev and Martinů—a beautiful addition to the recorded repertoire.

As for the remaining pieces on the disc, all for solo piano, one has to assume from hearing them that Kletzki was more than just a competent pianist. These are virtuosic works that sound extremely difficult to play, yet in the hands of Joseph Banowetz they emerge articulate, lucid, eloquent, and authoritative. The Three Preludes were written in 1923. Florid and fluid in their lyrical poetry, Chopin is their “godfather.” From the following year comes the Fantasy in C Minor, a substantial and substantive 19-minute work that is highly improvisatory-sounding and rhapsodic in nature. The model here, if there is one, is less clearly identifiable, though I can swear I hear the influence of Brahms’s piano rhapsodies and late keyboard pieces. Among the very last works Kletzki would write before giving up on composing are the three unpublished piano pieces, dating from 1940 or 1941. Less busy and more introspective, the music now takes on the patina of a kind of soft Impressionistic cocktail lounge jazz. I don’t mean anything disparaging by this; it’s just a way of describing and conveying to the reader how these pieces strike my ear.

Banowetz is a Grammy-nominated American pianist who has been acclaimed by others in these pages as “one of the preeminent ‘three B’s of Liszt playing’” and as “a giant among keyboard artists of our time,” though I confess I wasn’t able to find the latter citation in the archive. Nonetheless, Banowetz has racked up a very impressive discography with no fewer than 22 discs for Naxos alone, and his repertoire includes some of the most demanding works in the piano literature, for example, Busoni’s Fantasia contrappuntistica. Based on his playing on the present CD, I’d have to say that the acclaim he has received is well deserved.

This is an outstanding recording that should do much to advance Kletzki’s reputation as a serious composer, and it is sure to further enhance Banowetz’s reputation as well. The concerto was recorded in September 2006, in Studio 5 of the Russian State TV & Radio Company. The remaining tracks on the disc were recorded in January 2007, at Skywalker Sound in Marin County, California. However, there is little in the way of discrepant balances or sonic differences between the two venues. A superb job all around, and strongly recommended.

Phillip Scott
Fanfare, January 2011

Paul Kletzki (1900–73) is known to music lovers as a conductor, active in recording studios in the 1950s and ’60s. Even though he was mentored by Furtwängler, Kletzki’s primary musical activity early in life was composition. His muse faded in the 1940s; the three unpublished piano pieces recorded here are possibly his final works, dating from 1940 or 1941.

Kletzki blamed his creative block on the vicissitudes of war. As a Polish Jew, he was forced to relocate to Switzerland in 1939, and the Nazis destroyed many of his early compositions. Nevertheless, there may be other reasons why he put composition behind him, as Timothy Jackson argues in his comprehensive note. Kletzki’s style was strongly rooted in a dense, late-Romantic idiom that World War II rendered well and truly passé. Though clearly in a position to conduct his own works, fashionable or not, Kletzki chose to ignore them completely. (A similar situation occurred with his contemporary Igor Markevitch.)

Little of his extant music has been recorded; apart from this issue, I only know a recent BIS CD of his Third Symphony and Flute Concerto. I requested the above disc to review because I greatly enjoyed the dynamic Third Symphony, which is a masterpiece. (The conductor on the BIS disc is also Thomas Sanderling.) Regrettably the current issue, while not without interest, is less compelling.

Kletzki’s piano music is full in texture, abounding in thick chords in both hands, octave doublings, and restless chromatic harmonic progressions. The sound might be described as post-Brahms (with some Reger and Scriabin thrown in). Like Brahms, Kletzki mines a vein of warmth and full-blooded lyricism. What he does not have is Brahms’s ability to create themes that are memorable and at the same time pregnant with potential for development. Without that “catchiness” factor, a piece like the C-Minor Fantasy of 1924 seems like too great an effort expended on thin material.

The substantial Piano Concerto, composed in 1930, is clearly modeled on the Brahms D Minor. The first movement begins with a stentorian statement from the orchestra, answered by a rippling piano solo, and the movement progresses with soloist and orchestra commenting on the material back and forth in turn. The slow movement is more successful: the protagonist is better integrated into the orchestral fabric, and the thematic material seems more memorable (sometimes quite beautiful). A light touch would have benefited the closing third movement (allegro agitato) but instead the heavy-handedness of the piano writing weighs things down, and the movement is rather drawn out at 12 and a half minutes. The composer’s original score disappeared under the Nazi regime; the orchestration we hear in this performance is by John Norine Jr. I thought some of his choices a little questionable, such as a high clarinet playing a counter-melody at 4:50 in the first movement; surely a flute or oboe would be more at home? Norine’s thick scoring further underlines the similarity to Brahms’s youthful masterwork.

Perhaps the most interesting selection here is the set of late unpublished pieces, written at the end of Kletzki’s composing life. Rather like late Szymanowski, they have a private, intimate flavor. Textures are thinner, the harmony remains pungent but not so convoluted as before, and the virtuoso element is absent. The third piece, a sad little waltz, simply peters out. How ironic that Kletzki’s most affecting music came just as he was giving up.

Joseph Banowetz is masterly in all these works, none of which could be described as easy to play. More than merely negotiating the challenges, he proves to be a genuine interpreter. Sanderling and the Russian orchestra provide good support (in what is definitely a supporting role), and the sound is excellent.

Jens F. Laurson
Ionarts, December 2010

(# 9) Best Recordings of 2010

I’m a little surprised to find that there actually is another recording dedicated to the music of Paul Kletzki (1900–1973), generally known (if at all) only as a conductor. There is a 2004 BIS recording, conducted by Thomas Sanderling (the eldest of Kurt Sanderling’s conducting gaggle of sons), with the Third Symphony and a Flute Concerto. And there I thought the excuse for never having known of Kletzki’s composing side was that the Naxos disc of the Piano Concerto (and several solo piano pieces) was the first disc focusing on that repertoire. Well, the discovery wasn’t any less revealing for having come a little late; with Thomas Sanderling being at it again conducting the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra in this stunningly effective, pleasantly bulky concerto.

Kletzki—championed as a composer and conductor by Furtwängler—composed from 1921 until the early 40s, but no longer after the war; musically shell-shocked, as he explained. In any case, his music would not have fit into the post-war aesthetic in the West, where the Pole Pavel Klecki settled with his Swiss wife. His music hasn’t hitherto been associated with the “Entartete Musik / Degenerate Music” label (which I prefer not to see as a derogatory label but a reverse stamp of honor…best utilized so that good may at last come from the musical aspect of the many crimes perpetrated by the Third Reich), but it should be, of course. His music—down to the publishers’ plates—was destroyed in the 30s in Germany. He escaped, but his composing career didn’t. Even this performance—a world premiere recording—was possible only after John Norine Jr. orchestrated the work based on a 1930s two-piano arrangement since the concerto’s score—while in the possession of Breitkopf—was dutifully destroyed.

Perhaps this recording will play a part in reviving the work a little…certainly a romantic 20th century Polish piano concerto of this type should be welcome to pianists and program directors interested in veering off the usual suspects usually programmed. It’s not the sweeping walloping style of Rachmaninoff, but certainly closer to him than, say, Ravel. Timothy Jackson’s notes describe Kletzki’s style as “super-complex tonality”, which might obscure the fact that the work is perfectly tonal, with nary a chromatic twist so complicated that conservative ears would find themselves in a twist. Never wilting when the concerto asks for bold and heavy, Joseph Banowetz seems to meet all the challenges thrown his way with aplomb and dexterity and—most important—genuine sympathy.

Nick Barnard
MusicWeb International, May 2010

The main work here is the 1930 Piano Concerto which survived in a published 2 piano 4-hand version. Hence the orchestration used here was made recently by one John Norine Jr. How conjectural the orchestration is is not clear from the liner. Having read the note before listening to the work itself I’m a little in a quandary. Jackson writes; “we may describe the extended tonal language of Kletzki’s music as a ‘super-complex tonality’ which generates highly complicated harmonic-contrapuntal textures…” Perhaps on the page more of the tonal ambiguity is apparent—to the relatively innocent ear this is the easily approachable face of modernism. Really there is nothing here that would shock anyone attuned to Medtner. Having had an enjoyable wallow recently in great tracts of Viennese music from the likes of Zemlinsky and Korngold and Schmidt, Kletzki’s harmonic palette in comparison, sounds more traditional than any. Likewise his handling of form; this is a big work running to over thirty seven minutes in a very traditional post-Brahmsian layout. Pianist Joseph Banowetz is completely at ease with the fist-fulls of notes. Most immediately appealing is the song-like central slow movement…The Three Preludes Op. 4 are well crafted and very enjoyable but if you consider the date at which they were written they sound curiously divorced from their time. In fact I’m hard pushed to think of any major composer writing in the 1920s who doesn’t sound more modern than this! Not that ‘modernism’ for modernism’s sake matters a jot—it doesn’t…The third prelude is passionately turbulent—full of the energy of the young and confident. Again praise is due to Banowetz for the easy conviction with which he plays and the technical assurance on display at every turn. The engineering of these solo works is good too—close but not clangorous. There is renewed poignancy in the Three Unpublished Piano Pieces which date from 1941. By this time Kletzki was writing for his own personal imperative. Exiled in effect in Switzerland these were written without hope of performance or publication. Which perhaps explains their simpler altogether more nostalgic tone. Their musical vocabulary is positively reactionary for the 1940s but curiously I find that Kletzki’s embracing of this superficially simpler style far more appealing. However, the disc closes with a return to the 1920’s for the substantial Fantasie in C minor Op. 9. The ghosts of Busoni and Scriabin hang in the air…Again the abiding impression is of a serious questing work that feels spiritually out of kilter with the age in which it was written. Clearly the harmonic resources are of its time but somehow the essence of the actual music is not…Interesting and rare music…

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, April 2010

Making their première appearance on disc, all of the pieces here show Kletzki was a master craftsman, who shunned dodecaphony while pushing the envelope of tonality. They include a newly orchestrated version of his 1930 piano concerto, the only full score of which was apparently destroyed during World War II (1939–1945). We have conductor-arranger John Norine, Jr. to thank for this reconstruction, which he did in conjunction with the continuing Lost Composer’s Project. It represents a significant addition to the late-romantic/early-modern concertante repertoire.

In three movements, the outer ones are in extended sonata form and surround a lovely central andante, where a pair of chromatically sinuous ideas alternate with one another. With elements of Brahms (1833–1897) and Rachmaninov (1873–1943) at its core, the concerto is one of those works which offers something new, but is at the same time immediately appealing.

Although elements of Chopin (1810–1849) are to be found in the three piano preludes of 1923, there’s a tonal wanderlust that’s a Kletzki trademark. The demands on the performer are considerable, making the music all the more compelling.

Dating from 1940–41, the three unpublished piano pieces that follow are intriguing because they maintain their tonal aroma despite heavy chromatic outgassing. Listening to these one can only marvel at the composer’s consummate skill in juggling keys without sounding twelve-tone.

The CD concludes with the massive Fantasia in C minor for piano of 1924. Written just a year after the preludes, there’s an intellectual aura and dramatic intensity that smack of Beethoven’s (1770–1827) late piano sonatas, as well as those of Nicolai Medtner (1880–1951). In one extended super sonata form movement, perspicacious listeners will detect four connected sections. The outer ones correspond to the usual statement and recapitulation, while the inner two, consisting of a contiguous scherzo and lento, form the development. Is that an oblique reference to the Dies Irae we hear about halfway through this thought-provoking musical essay [track-10, beginning at 12:30]?

Our soloist on this CD, Joseph Banowetz, is a champion of rare piano repertoire, having given us a number of outstanding discs featuring neglected works by such composers as Mily Balakirev (1837–1910), Anton Rubinstein (1829–1894) and Sergei Taneyev (1856–1915). This release is no exception and ranks among his greatest accomplishments to date, considering the demands made on the performer. In the concerto, conductor Thomas Sanderling, son of Kurt Sanderling (b. 1912), lives up to his legendary father’s reputation, eliciting outstanding support for Mr. Banowetz from the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2010

Internationally well-known as a major recording conductor during the 1950’s and 60’s, Paul Kletzki was born in Poland in 1900 to a Jewish family, a fact that was to greatly affect his later life. As a Jew he was expelled from various countries in the lead-up to the Second World War, his marriage to a Swiss wife saving his life when they sought asylum there in 1939. To that point he had been a composer with appearances as a conductor to bring financial support. Having accepted the position as Principal Conductor of the Lucern Festival Orchestra in 1943, he emerged from the war with his life reversed, conducting being his occupation. His orchestral scores were tonal in content, but though he ignored atonal trends, he was working towards his own version of harmonic textures. His catalogue included three concertos, one each for piano, violin and flute, the one for piano dating from 1930. It received its first performance at the Leipzig Gewendhaus in 1932, and a two piano arrangement was published. Sadly the full score was destroyed in the Hitler years, this disc offering an orchestration by John Norine Jnr. It is in the usual three movements, and is not far short of forty minutes. Not a showy piece but one that is taxing, the big and difficult cadenza in the last movement akin to Rachmaninov. Not a work that asks you to love it, but it is a major score from a neglected composer. The remainder of the disc is given to two sets of three short solo piano pieces. You can hear Liszt and Rachmaninov as the inspiration, Chopin hovering in the background, the Fantasie from 1924 being the other major work. The soloist, Joseph Banowetz, is a pianist on a grand scale and very well-suited to Kletzki’s writing in the concerto, Thomas Sanderling drawing very responsive playing from the Russian orchestra.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group