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Paul Kletzki in Moscow

Symphony No. 8 in B minor ‘Unfinished’ D 759 (1822) [23:15]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)

Oberon - overture in D major (1826) [9:22]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Tragic Overture in D minor Op.81 (1880) [13:42]
USSR State Symphony Orchestra/Paul Kletzki
rec. Moscow, 1968
MELODIYA MEL CD 10 01155 [46:19]

It’s fortuitous that I should be able to review two Unfinished Symphonies presided over, two decades apart, by that most underrated and elegant of conductors, Paul Kletzki. The earlier recording was a commercial set, made for Walter Legge in London. It has now re-appeared in the context of a Guild Kletzki symphony brace (see review) Over twenty years had elapsed before his final concert tour of the Soviet Union and this must have been pretty much his last concert there in the fearful year of 1968.

Listening to his performance leads me merely to reprise the comments I made about his Abbey Road, 1946 performance - polished control and eloquence with phrasing that is always affectionate. Kletzki pays attention to detail and, as a good former orchestral leader, encourages a strongly singing tone from the strings. There’s not quite the same burnished quality to the string tone but of course this was a concert performance. Over the intervening two decades it would have been odd – doctrinaire, rigid, perplexing – had certain features of his approach not modulated or softened. One such was his approach to the Andante where the modifying instruction con moto was very much more closely observed than in 1946. It does subtly shift the axis of the symphony and represents a more precise, less romanticised approach.

There are two other works preserved here, though presumably at the concert there was a concerto or another symphony or a tone poem. Oberon goes with assured refinement and fine balance. And then there’s the Tragic Overture where we find once more that Kletzki really was a thoroughly sane, practical and intelligent Brahmsian. He encourages a surging string tone even in the more strenuous pages though the tubby brass playing needs to be absorbed rather than rejected to get the most from the performance. As regards a few of his contemporaries, and in strictly tempo terms, he is pitched half way between the terse vitality (yes!) of Knappertsbusch and the more measured approaches of Abendroth and Szell.

There are two demerits. The first is the timing, a mere 46 minutes. The second is the English text in the booklet which, not to put too fine a point on it, is an absurdity way, way beyond Supraphon School of ‘74. Fedor Sofronov deserves better. But if he thinks Georges Sebastian was German he needs a New Yorker fact checker at his side.

So – fine playing and an auspicious, well recorded concert. I have to say though that only Kletzki admirers would really be satisfied with the short playing time.

Jonathan Woolf


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