Tuesday 7 June 2016

Dacapo’s new release of Danish composer, Paul von Klenau’s sprawling Symphony No 9 is shown to be full of terrific ideas throughout its long length in this premiere performance from Michael Schønwandt and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra with the Danish National Concert Choir and soloists

The Danish composer, Paul von Klenau (1883-1946) was born in Copenhagen where he studied under Otto Malling. He later travelled to Berlin and Munich to study and work with amongst others Max Bruch, Ludwig Thuille and Max von Schillings. Later influences were French music, Richard Strauss and Arnold Schoenberg's ideas on twelve-tone music.

Klenau spent most of his life in Germany, mixing with Alban Berg's circle of friends. His Symphony No. 1 in F minor was premiered successfully at a Tonkünstlerfest in Munich in 1908. He went on to write operas, ballets, choral and chamber works, piano works and eight more symphonies. In 1940 he returned to Copenhagen where he lived until his death.

Klenau's reputation suffered because of his role under National Socialism yet it seems that it was more his passion for German cultural tradition that caused him to at least tolerate the political regime.

Klenau wrote his Symphony No 9 in 1944-45 but the work was not performed until it was premiered by Michael Schønwandt www.ingpen.co.uk/artist/michael-schonwandt  with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra www.dr.dk/Koncerthuset/english/the-danish-national-symphony-orchestra.htm , Danish National Concert Choir www.dr.dk/Koncerthuset/kor-og-orkestre/dr-vokalensemblet/english/om-dr-koncertkoret.htm  and soloists at a concert at the DR Koncerthuset, Copenhagen in March 2014.

It is this premiere that has been recorded live and released by Dacapo Records www.dacapo-records.dk


The soloists on this premiere recording are Cornelia Ptassek (soprano) www.corneliaptassek.com , Susanne Resmark (alto) www.harrisonparrott.com/artist/profile/susanne-resmark , Michael Weinius (tenor) www.michaelweinius.com/bio.html  and Steffen Bruun (bass) http://steffenbruun.dk/index.html .

The symphony is in eight movements, lasting nearly one and a half hours and is a fusion of a Requiem with Latin text and a traditional symphony.

The opening Allegro rises purposefully with a strong theme that winds its way through some rather gloomy moments before revealing moments of light. Orchestrally there are occasional harmonies and intervals that do recall Nielsen and later a lovely woodwind passage where Klenau weaves a fine forward flow. The music moves through some very fine, strong passages reinforced in the lower orchestra, beautifully developed, finding moments of quiet repose before rising to a stirring coda.

The Requiem. Andante is for soprano, alto, chorus and orchestra and brings a gentle opening with a prominent woodwind.  Alto, Susanne Resmark soon joins as do the choir bringing fine sonorities with the orchestra. Both alto and soprano Cornelia Ptassek lead, the chorus joining to rise up in an especially lovely movement. Klenau brings some quite lovely harmonies, gently and subtly shifting with little outbursts of Kyrie and Christe from the alto. Later there is a passionate orchestral passage that precedes the re-entry of the alto for ‘Quid sum miser tunc dicturus? ’ (O what shall I so guilty plead?), bringing a terrific depth hushed and restrained of feeling. The orchestra rises for the return of the chorus in the Dies Irae but falls to a hush for alto, chorus and orchestra to bring the Requiem aternum. There are further passionate outbursts of Kyrie and Christe before the choir and orchestra find a gentle conclusion.

The orchestral Allegro molto vivace forges ahead with a hint of Nielsen’s exuberant, unstoppable forward flow. Very soon there is a quiet moment for strings before slowly rising to regain the initial exuberance. The music again falls slightly only to rise again in its inexorable surge forward. Later there is a lovely little rhythmic idea for woodwind and strings before the orchestra suddenly rears up, finding its forward momentum. The rhythmic idea returns before building in strength as it is combined with the forward flowing theme. A richer, more sonorous string episode follows before the music rushes to the coda.

Alto, tenor, bass and chorus join the orchestra for the Andante. ‘Estne haec vitae discrepantia sempiterna’ that opens quietly in the orchestra, quickly joined by the tenor, Michael Weinius who rises in passion and strength in a terrific passage. Soon the chorus take the music forward rising in tempo and power for ‘…in bellum nos conjiciamus’ (rush to take up arms). The soloists join with soprano, Cornelia Ptassek rising wonderfully, each soloist having a moment over a dramatic restrained orchestra. There are lovely, delicate woodwind passages before the chorus glide in with ‘Haec est vitae’, flowing through some very fine passages for soloists, chorus and orchestra, subtly finding increases in power and drama. An oboe then clarinet brings a particularly lovely moment before the alto joins in ‘Discite venerationem(Learn reverence), all the while having a lovely rippling woodwind accompaniment. The soprano joins in a wonderfully conceived section before the orchestra picks up, pointed up by timpani as the music regains the forward sweep. After a sudden pause the chorus move quickly forward in a fugal section, rising in surges as the soloists join to lead to a hushed passage that precedes a brass fanfare and side drum that heralds the sudden coda.

The Allegro (Tempo di marcia, vivace) opens with side drum and an energetic orchestral marching theme. There is a fine forward flow with occasional hints of Nielsen as it moves around harmonically with some fine wind passages adding to the di marcia feel. The music moves through some finely built variations before a slower, quieter passage for woodwind. There are some finely orchestrated passages before the rumbustious return of the opening idea. One can’t help thinking that this movement could stand-alone as an overture.

There is a beautifully turned, gentle opening to the Adagio, subtly and gently rising in passion before a lovely little passage for flute and orchestra. There are subtle little rhythmic ideas with the strings rising in a rather Tchaikovskian passage. Soon the music finds a rather funereal plod before rising to a peak only to fall back to the funereal pace with woodwind weaving a line over the orchestra. The music rises to another peak before gently finding the coda.

The brief Misericordia. Sehr leidenschaftlich bewegt is for chorus and orchestra and rises dramatically with the Danish National Concert Choir bringing a bright and dynamic ‘Misericordia! Miserere nobis!’ (Mercy! Have mercy on us!) over the orchestra before its sudden conclusion.

Soprano, alto, tenor, bass and chorus join the orchestra for the final Ruhige Viertel. ‘Stella lucet per coelum.’ A high trumpet sounds a long held note before tenor, Michael Weinius declaims ‘Stella lucet per coelum!’ (A star is shining in the heavens!) The choir then brings ‘Deus est Deus(God is God), alternating female and male voices and soon finding some lovely harmonies as the music slowly descends. The solo trumpet is heard again in a motif that is repeated lower in the brass. There is a fast and energetic ‘Deus est Deus’ for soloists, chorus and orchestra before some fine choral passages with many individual moments for each soloist as they weave the musical line, blending especially well. Later there is a fast moving orchestral passage before a vibrant choral ‘Osanna in excelsis, Gloria’ (Hosanna in the Highest. Gloria). Bass, Steffen Bruun introduces the ‘Dona Nobis Pacem(Grant us peace), taken up by the tenor, then alto in a strikingly lovely moment. The chorus return dramatically with the Gloria and the trumpet adds another long held note before the chorus take the music forward, in a terrific energetic section. There are some sumptuous sonorities for chorus and orchestra in ‘Supra nos legionsstellarum’ (Above us is the heavenly host) before a fast moving ‘Gloria in excelsis’ pushed quickly ahead and speeding ever more at the conclusion.

Despite Klenau’s wish to move away from the music that dominated his native Denmark in his early days and his interest in Strauss and Schoenberg there is a hint of Nielsen occasionally. Perhaps this may have been due to his return to Copenhagen before he wrote this symphony. Nevertheless, Klenau does bring a whole host of musical ideas that show his long interest in German music.

This is a sprawling symphony full of terrific ideas throughout its long length. Perhaps if Klenau had lived longer and heard performances of the symphony he might have tightened it up somewhat. As it stands it is a fascinating and hugely enjoyable listening experience.

Michael Schønwandt achieves fine results from his strong line up of soloists, fine choir and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra. 

The live recording is excellent as are the booklet notes by Niels Krabbe. There are full Latin texts and English translations. 

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