AUGUST KLUGHARDT: Symphony No. 4 in C Minor, Op. 57; Drei Stücke, Op. 87 ‒ Anhaltische Philharmonie Dessau / Antony Hermus ‒ CPO 777 740-2; 53:48 (8/14/15) (Distr. by Naxos) ***1/2:
VLADIMIR MICHAILOVIC JUROWSKI: Symphony No. 5, Op. 79; Russian Painters ‒ Norrköping Sym. Orch./ Michail Jurowski ‒ CPO 777 875-2; 73:46 (3/11/15) (Distr. by Naxos) ***:
Two more worthy composers rescued from obscurity, thanks to CPO.
On paper and by just about every other standard, these two recordings have little in common except they both represent the crusading efforts of the CPO label to bring obscure but significant music and their composers to light. Klughardt was a German conductor and composer, an enthusiast of Wagner and Liszt who nonetheless pursued the course of the Romantic Classicists, devoting himself to the symphony and showing affinities to Schumann’s symphonic style. Jurowski was a Ukrainian Soviet composer best known for his film scores and for founding a musical dynasty that includes his conductor son Michail and conductor grandson Vladimir. However, I decided to review their works together because while I find their symphonic arguments somewhat compelling, it’s an interesting coincidence that I’m more attracted to the other works on each program and believe both composers’ strengths lay elsewhere than in the symphony.
August Klughardt (1847‒1902) was born in Köthen, one of Bach’s stomping grounds, but he grew up in Dessau and later became the court music director in that city, which makes this recording by the Anhaltische Philharmonie Dessau appropriate. As a conductor, Klughardt reached the high point of his career by mounting the first performance of Wagner’s Ring in Dessau.
Three years before this, in 1890, Klughardt’s Fourth Symphony was premiered in Dresden. Throughout the 1890s, the symphony was performed in other German cities and even crossed the Atlantic, appearing on a New York Philharmonic program in 1893. The symphony seems to have garnered critical as well as audience approval even if, somewhat tellingly, some critics “found that the composer valued contrapuntal work more than thematic invention and that a good many theatrical traits far removed from the symphonic element occurred in the work.” For my money, both these traits weigh down the finale, its blazing first theme clotted in both the exposition and development section by instances of leaden counterpoint. The finale is neither as cogent nor compelling as the troubled first movement, which was the most prized by critics of the day. This movement starts quietly, with an opening melody whose placid surface is troubled “by a dotted rhythm and triplet rhythm in the third measure”; these rhythmic figures become important motives in the course of the movement, as well as advance a narrative fraught with turmoil and struggle. In that regard, it reminds me of the first movement of Czech composer Zdeněk Fibich’s rather wonderful Third Symphony of 1898.
The attractive second movement starts quietly as well, then breaks forth in a series of heroic gestures that seem to evoke resolve in the face of the struggles portrayed in the first movement. But I’ve already registered my complaints against the finale, and the Presto third movement left little impression on me at all. So despite a genuinely promising beginning, Klughardt’s Fourth succumbs to the “finale problem” that plagues so many symphonies of the Romantic era.
As I hinted earlier, I find Drei Stücke, a series of three well-contrasted pieces (Capriccio, Gavotte, and Tarantelle), more to my liking. It was Klughardt’s final orchestral work, first performed under the composer’s direction in 1901. It’s light stuff but attractive, employing the old musical forms that started attracting composers around the turn of the century and finally fueled the Neoclassical movement of the 1920s and ‘30s. The orchestration is effective, with a starring role for the harp in the gracious Capriccio and appropriate percussion accents from triangle and cymbals in the Tarantelle.
The performances by the Dessau orchestra conducted by Antony Hermus are sympathetic and seem to give Klughardt his full due. I doubt there will be a rival recording anytime soon, and frankly, given the fine performance and equally good sound, an alternative isn’t really needed.
Speaking of sympathetic performances, I have every confidence that Vladimir Jurowski’s work receives as fine advocacy as possible from his son, Michail, at the helm of the very capable Norrköping Symphony. I’m just not sure there is enough musical substance in Jurowski’s sizable Symphony No. 5. At 21 minutes, 12 seconds, the opening Andante sereno would have to be gangbusters not to outstay its welcome, and sure enough—it outstays its welcome. Maybe the sereno marking is meant somewhat sarcastically because it is more melancholy than serene and contains wild outbursts and passages that leave a troubled, haunted impression. As the notes to this recording suggest, the general atmosphere of existential angst probably reflects the state of Russian society at the time—1971—with the Cold War at its height and Russia already in the economic tailspin that would lead to the collapse of the Soviet empire.
The trouble with the entire symphony is that many of its gestures have an empty histrionic quality to them, and worse yet, the piece has echoes of other modern Russian composers who frankly did angst better. The first movement is analogous to some of Shostakovich’s harried slow movements, and there are elements of Prokofiev in martial mode in the finale, as well as some orchestral brushstrokes borrowed from Khachaturian. (There’s a whiff of Kabalevsky in Russian Painters as well, but that’s another story.) So for me, the symphony has too many moments of déja-vu and too few of genuinely original musical argument.
Again, it’s the companion work, Russian Painters, that I find much more attractive, probably because it draws most effectively on Jurowski’s cinematic sense of drama and color. This series of short tone pictures is the perfect assignment for a master composer of film scores, and I enjoyed the work even if I couldn’t appreciate the aptness of Jurowski’s musical evocation of all seven Russian paintings. However, Isaak Levitan’s Above the Eternal Calm is reproduced on the booklet cover, so you can judge the success of Jurowski’s first movement based on that. And if you’re enterprising, you can probably find reproductions of some of the other paintings through a Google search. I did manage to track down a few of them, though I can’t say it materially increased my enjoyment of Jurowski’s work. I was content with the fine melodies and colorful orchestration, colorfully projected in CPO’s robust recording, inscribed at Konzerthaus Norrköping.
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