Kletzki: Piano Concerto, Three Preludes, Fantasie / Banowetz, Sanderling

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KLETZKI Piano Concerto 1; 3 Preludes; 3 Pieces; Fantasy in c • Joseph Banowetz (pn); 1 Thomas Sanderling, cond; 1 Russian PO • NAXOS 8.572190...

KLETZKI Piano Concerto 1; 3 Preludes; 3 Pieces; Fantasy in c Joseph Banowetz (pn); 1 Thomas Sanderling, cond; 1 Russian PO NAXOS 8.572190 (75:12)

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 Martin??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.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins

Product Description:

  • Release Date: March 30, 2010

  • UPC: 747313219070

  • Catalog Number: 8572190

  • Label: Naxos

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Francisco Tarrega, Paul Kletzki

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Russian Philharmonic Orchestra

  • Performer: Joseph Banowetz