PAUL GRAENER: Wiener Sinfonie Op. 110; Die Flute von Sanssouci Op. 88; Turmwächterlied Op. 107; Flotenkonzert Op. 116 – Andreas Knoop & Cornelia Grohmann (flute) /Philharmonisches Orchester Altenburg-Gera /Eric Solen – Sterling CDS10902 [Distr. by Qualiton] 72:34 ****:
Paul Graener (1872-1944) was born in Berlin. As a young man he enjoyed for thirteen years a career in London where he taught and was music director of the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. Thereafter he returned to mainland Europe, working first in Vienna, then in a variety of places until he became Professor Composition at Leipzig. He gave up teaching in 1925 to devote his time to writing music, though returned to Berlin in 1930 to take up an appointment at the Stern’ches Conservatorium. By 1935 he had succeeded Wilhelm Furtwängler at the Reichsmusikkammer serving there as leader of the composers’ organisation until 1941.
Knut Andreas, in his excellent and detailed booklet essay, goes into some detail about Graener’s later years, his membership of the Nazi Party and his getting into trouble for his continued friendship with Jewish publishers and musicians and for making disparaging remarks about the Nazi leadership, and after being unable to confirm thoroughly Aryan antecedents, he lost some of his positions, though he did remain vice-president of the Reichsmusikkammer. In addition to all this, the Graeners had lost their first son aged eight, the second in 1918, and their daughter aged thirty, and brought up the grandchildren, and Andreas points out the move to Berlin was so that Graener could be near to his three illegitimate children. So, this was a complicated life peppered with tragedy.
The Vienna Symphony Op.110, his Second, was Graener’s last major orchestral work, first performed in 1941, with the Berliner Philharmoniker under Knappertsbusch. From the beginning, the listener’s ears are bathed in quite gorgeous late-Romanticism – here, there is no raging against the iniquities of life or commentary on current or past events. Something of a homage to Mozart’s Jupiter and Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, though by no means a pastiche, the work has some glorious moments, and bears much repeated listening. On the whole, it is easiest to compare the idiom to that of late Strauss.
The two works for flute are equally delightful, here played by two excellent different flautists. The earlier work, Die Flute von Sanssouci, dates from 1929 and was inspired by Berlin and the flautist King Frederick the Great – movements titled Sarabande, Air, Gavotte and Rigaudon give more than a little hint about the music itself. The work was very popular, introduced to audiences by Furtwängler, Toscanini and Kleiber to name but three. The concerto was completed in 1944, the last movement based on the folk-song “Enjoy your life”, ever optimistic and bright-eyed in the face of ever-worsening trials. Turmwächterlied (Watchman’s Song) dates from 1939, and was inspired by Goethe’s poem and is a set of variations, beginning and ending in darkness, very effective.
The Altenburg-Gera Philharmonic and Eric Solen approach all four works with sensitivity and the orchestra’s rich tonal colours are a credit to the players. Coupled with excellent and warm sound, the works are presented in pretty much the best possible light. This interesting disc, generously filled, is well worth seeking out. It has certainly moved me to look for other works of this now-neglected composer.
— Peter Joelson
More of Horenstein’s legacy, in this orchestral music of Wagner