SCHUMANN: The Four Symphonies; Overture, Scherzo and Finale in E-flat Major, Op. 52; Manfred Overture, Op. 115 – Israel Philharmonic Orchestra/Paul Kletzki – Doremi (2 CDs)

by | Aug 19, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

SCHUMANN: The Four Symphonies; Overture, Scherzo and Finale in E-flat Major, Op. 52 ; Manfred Overture, Op. 115 – Israel Philharmonic Orchestra/Paul Kletzki – Doremi DHR-7860/1, 2 mono CDs 75:20; 77:02 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:

Polish maestro Paul Kletzki (1900-1973) enjoyed a natural penchant for the Romantic classics, and he led the Berlin Philharmonic during the 1920s under the auspices of Wilhelm Furtwaengler. It was upon Toscanini’s invitation that Kletzki came to La Scala in 1949 for the historic re-opening concerts. Kletzki inscribed the complete Schumann symphonies in Tel Aviv for British Columbia between February and mid-March 1956. At the time of their release, Harold C. Schonberg claimed that “no better performance is available on LP [possessing] a natural, silky sound with a real orchestral balance.” 

The B-flat Major “Spring” Symphony projects a just measure of natural excitement, richly driven but never over-ripe. The spacious Larghetto demonstrates a crisp, lean series of springtime colors, Wordsworth come to the German heartland. A fine string trill emanates from the IPO, the French horns resonant over a strong cello sound, reminiscent of the creamy linearity Much drew in this music with the Boston Symphony. The harmonies near the coda already point to the “cathedral” imagery in E-flat Minor of the Rhenish Symphony. An ambling Scherzo resists too much emphasis on the “molto vivace” designation and rather injects a degree of grace into the flurries. A pregnant pause–a la Furtwaengler–before the final statement of the martial theme, the woodwind musings, the tympanic beats and the quiet close. No performance of the last movement quite reaches the unbounded exuberance of the Bernstein/New York Philharmonic inscription, but Kletzki plays the music for its innate joie de vivre, its tripping lightly with a hearty but disciplined musculature. The French horn, flute, and full complement of strings collaborate to urge the forces of Nature and spiritual awakening to energize us pilgrims to fresh resolutions.

In a conversation with Leonard Bernstein, one of our topics was Schumann’s C Major Symphony: “The trick,” he pontificated, “is not to allow the whole thing to degenerate into a stolid march.” Kletzki plays the opening chorale with reverent intensity, dramatically moving to the Allegro ma non troppo, whose double-dotted rhythms pose no obstacle to the IPO, once characterized as “the orchestra of soloists.” The fervent climactic passages of this strong movement carry a Toscanini sense of drive, trumpets and horns punctuated by some mighty turbulence from bass fiddles. Some crackle in the recorded sound mars the crescendi, but the performance proves breathtaking. The whirlwind Scherzo–and its two trios–whisks by at virtuoso speed, though Kletzki gets us to feel how Schumann manipulates the diminished chord to sustain tension. The C Minor Adagio projects the requisite mystery, elegiac and contrapuntal, easily aromatic with Bach chorales and anticipatory of Mahler‘s famed Adagietto. Sheer jubilation marks the Allegro molto vivace finale, the main themes derived from Beethoven, especially An die ferne geliebte. The brilliant string runs and accelerandi share qualities we hear in Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmilla Overture.  When Kletzki takes Schumann back to the materials from the first movement, we feel a real sense of aesthetic closure.

Though broad in conception, Kletzki’s Manfred Overture opens with a hurricane statement of three chords, then the bitter struggle in E-flat Minor ensues, the oboe and secondary strings in running, tragic commentary on Byron’s despondent anti-hero. The working-out of themes and internal struggle Kletzki accomplishes with an anguished drive reminiscent of Furtwaengler, whose influence can be heard in this fine rendition. The 1841 Overture, Scherzo and Finale expresses Schumann’s aesthetic concerns of symphony-writing after Beethoven, that first movements had degenerated into overture-style. Convinced that slow movements could be omitted, Schumann provides us three symphonic movements, the second in C-sharp Minor. Kletzki plays the Overture for its airy grace and energetic, syncopated wit. Kletzki imposes a decided swaying canter onto the 6/8 rhythm of the Scherzo, relieved by the 2/4 of the Trio. Kletzki attacks the contrapuntal opening of the Finale with fury, so even its legato character becomes furiously militant, antiphonally conceived. The graduated rising-scale peroration achieves a fine grandeur, the chorale rolling out with convinced inspired heraldry. 


Kletzki’s Rhenish Symphony, from its opening exertions, remains bright and sunny, energetically optimistic. The woodwind and string ambiance wafts a middle-European blend of colors, punctuated by an explosive brass complement. The C Major Scherzo proceeds as a light Mendelssohnian andantino. The A-flat Major Nicht Schnell intermezzo makes a lovely romantic serenade. A contrapuntally incandescent Feierlich movement justifies the price of admission. A tad staid for my  taste at the onset, the Finale manages some deft articulation and febrile emotions as it proceeds into the brass and strings, a happy conclusion to a well-crafted performance. 

Few recorded performances of the D Minor Symphony compare in visceral intensity with Furtwaengler’s Berlin Philharmonic reading for DGG, but Kletzki mounts a thoughtful, polished inscription, stylish and often nobly imbued with the music’s incensed mystique. Attacca from the first movement to the A Minor Romanze which re-introduces the music’s opening, and then the IPO’s woodwinds and concertmaster indulge in a D Major fantasia. A sturdy marcato approach to the Scherzo, which flutters lithely even as the martial affect continues its procession. More (cyclic) fantasy as the Trio captures the air of the Romanze; then, as the da capo dissolves, we reach the marvelous apocalyptic transition to the heated Finale, a bravura vehicle for Kletzki and his gifted IPO forces, who turn in a thrilling reading, easily comparable to the esteemed inscriptions of the period from Bernstein, Kubelik, and Cantelli.

–Gary Lemco

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