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Graener: Orchestral Works / Albert, NDR Radiophilharmonie

Graener / Ndr Radiophilharmonie / Albert
Release Date: 04/24/2012 
Label:  Cpo   Catalog #: 777447   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Paul Graener
Conductor:  Werner Andreas Albert
Orchestra/Ensemble:  North German Radio Symphony Orchestra Hannover
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews



GRAENER Comedietta. Variations on a Russian Folksong. Music in the Evening. Sinfonia Breve Werner Andreas Albert, cond; NDR RPO CPO 777 447-2 (66:29)


I don’t see any recordings devoted to the art of Paul Graener (1872–1948) in previous issues of Fanfare , so some background is warranted. He entered the Veit Conservatory in 1888 but never graduated, and settled in London eight years later, where he took British citizenship. Over the next 12 years he Read more taught privately and at the Royal Academy of Music, and conducted for a while at the Haymarket Theater. In 1908 he moved to Vienna, and was engaged over time in a number of prestigious posts: as a member of the New Conservatory; director of the Salzburg Mozarteum; and professor of composition at the Leipzig Conservatory, taking Max Reger’s old chair. In the 1930s he directed the Stern Conservatory, and became vice-president of the Reichsmusikkammer after Fürtwangler resigned.


It’s been repeatedly stated that Graener’s involvement with the Nazis (he joined the Party in 1933) accounts for the invisibility his music acquired after World War II, but the situation was more complicated than that. Graener gave up or was removed from most of his official posts in the late 1930s, and was placed under surveillance because of his continued association with Jewish artists and publishers. Toscanini, no friend of Nazis, continued to perform his music throughout this time—including a live broadcast from 1938 that is now available from pristineclassics.com, featuring the composer’s charming Die Flöte von Sanssouci.


Another possible cause of Graener’s musical demise is simply that his style was out of joint with the times. The 1950s witnessed a consolidation of the serialists in foundations, academic settings, and public media. Living tonalist composers were derided by some prominent critics as old-fashioned, while commissions and performances of new music increasingly targeted what was then regarded as stylishly modern. Whatever one may think now of those developments, it created an atmosphere that wasn’t receptive to building new audiences for early 20th-century German Romantics.


I was drawn to Graener’s music after first encountering his songs in the vintage recordings of several singers, notably Gerhard Hüsch and Walther Ludwig. The same freshness, the ability to produce a good tune without sounding either condescending or like a rehash of somebody else, can be found in the orchestral works on this album. The brilliantly orchestrated, Impressionistically harmonized Comedietta hearkens back to the London theater scene of his youth, but as a series of continuous, musically linked tableaus. In the Variations on a Russian Folksong , the folksong in question is best known as the Song of the Volga Boatman . The orchestration once again is striking, and the open harmonies in one variation mark a possible homage to Mussorgsky, while the use of violins in counterpoint in another may be a similar gesture to Rimsky-Korsakov. It is all very cleverly conceived, with each variation achieving not merely a distinct weight, color, and expressivity, but an imaginative depth that keeps them well within the mind long after hearing.


Music in the Evening was first mentioned in a letter in 1913, and published in 1915. (Details about the whens and wheres of many of Graener’s works are missing, due to his Berlin home and all its contents being destroyed in a 1944 air raid.) It is a Natur Gedicht in music, a South German-Austrian genre that was perhaps most successfully managed in Marx’s Nature Trilogy (ASV 1137, deleted). It’s a pleasant diversion, though only the third of three short movements manages to touch the nocturnal poetry both Marx and Reger find so readily. The three-movement Sinfonia Breve , by contrast, was an attempt to capitalize upon the recent popularity of Die Flöte von Sanssouci , and appeared just before Graener’s opera Friedemann Bach . Counterpoint, imitative textures, fugatos and ornamentation are regular features, though the overall effect remains broadly accessible; and the central adagio achieves genuine expressive depth based on a major-minor ambiguity that some of the Tudor composers would have appreciated.


The North German Radio Philharmonic performs expertly, with a good blend, but with little character in solo passages. Werner Andreas Albert draws from them fine phrasing, precision, and a welcome attention to dynamics. However, the usual heaviness is evident in the fact that even those movements marked allegro or allegro moderato —such as one of the variations of the Volga Boatman set, or the opening movement of the Sinfonia Breve —are taken at a relaxed, moderate clip. There’s no lack of energy, but I can’t help thinking that when a composer, even a German late-Romantic composer, marks something allegro , he probably means allegro . And it would be a boon to hear it performed this way at least when one is becoming acquainted with the piece, or wishes to acquaint others with it.


Still, with excellent sound and two works, Comedietta and the Variations on a Russian Folksong , I think belong in the standard orchestral repertoire, this album rates a recommendation. Better still, it’s listed as Volume 1. It will be interesting to see what Albert and his CPO producers unearth for their next release.


FANFARE: Barry Brenesal


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As I mentioned in my review of Paul Graener’s piano trios, also on CPO, his music, while relentlessly retrospective, reveals a genuine talent. Although the booklet notes make the usual “some of his best friends were Jewish” apologia, the fact is that Graener’s political decision-making (he was in fact a British citizen) in returning to Germany to participate with evident gusto in the Nazi cultural bureaucracy, was not terribly smart. There is no question that the regime’s backward-looking, “fascist realist” esthetics appealed to him, and these works, dating from the 1910s through the 1930s, show him as completely comfortable writing traditional tonal music, high in craftsmanship and immediate appeal. As the Morton Gould-ish title Comedietta suggests, Graener was basically a jolly Nazi, and the music itself is genuinely witty and charming, almost fluffy in feeling.

The earliest work here, Musik am Abend (three pieces for small orchestra), has an almost Delian feel to its gentle nostalgia. The main theme of the Variations on a Russian Folksong turns out to be nothing less than the famous “Song of the Volga Boatman”, which makes the piece unexpectedly fun to hear even on a first encounter. Sinfonia Breve has a strongly neo-baroque feel; the main theme of the finale (sample below) might be mistaken for one of Purcell’s stage tunes, and it reminds us that for a good bit of his career Graener directed the Haymarket Theatre in London. As we might expect, Werner Andreas Albert proves an expert guide through this unfamiliar musical territory, and the playing of the Hannover orchestra leaves no room for complaint. Graener’s isn’t a major voice by any means, but however much he may have earned the oblivion into which he fell after his death in 1944, his music deserves a hearing. This well-engineered disc makes a strong case for his rehabilitation.

-- ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1.
Comedietta, Op. 82 by Paul Graener
Conductor:  Werner Andreas Albert
Orchestra/Ensemble:  North German Radio Symphony Orchestra Hannover
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Germany 
2.
Variationen über ein russisches Volkslied, Op. 55 by Paul Graener
Conductor:  Werner Andreas Albert
Orchestra/Ensemble:  North German Radio Symphony Orchestra Hannover
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Germany 
3.
Musik am Abend, Op. 44 by Paul Graener
Conductor:  Werner Andreas Albert
Orchestra/Ensemble:  North German Radio Symphony Orchestra Hannover
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Germany 
4.
Sinfonia breve, Op. 96 by Paul Graener
Conductor:  Werner Andreas Albert
Orchestra/Ensemble:  North German Radio Symphony Orchestra Hannover
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Germany 

Sound Samples

Comedietta, Op. 82
Variationen uber ein russisches Volkslied, Op. 55: Thema: Maestoso
Variationen uber ein russisches Volkslied, Op. 55: Variation 1: L'istesso tempo
Variationen uber ein russisches Volkslied, Op. 55: Variation 2: Moderato
Variationen uber ein russisches Volkslied, Op. 55: Variation 3: Andantino
Variationen uber ein russisches Volkslied, Op. 55: Variation 4: Allegro ma non troppo
Variationen uber ein russisches Volkslied, Op. 55: Variation 5: Lento
Variationen uber ein russisches Volkslied, Op. 55: Variation 6: Allegro moderato
Variationen uber ein russisches Volkslied, Op. 55: Variation 7: Allegretto
Variationen uber ein russisches Volkslied, Op. 55: Variation 8: Allegro
Variationen uber ein russisches Volkslied, Op. 55: Variation 9: Sostenuto
Variationen uber ein russisches Volkslied, Op. 55: Variation 10: Andante maestoso
Musik am Abend, Op. 44: I. Andantino
Musik am Abend, Op. 44: II. Larghetto
Musik am Abend, Op. 44: III. Allegretto
Sinfonia breve, Op. 96: I. Allegro moderato
Sinfonia breve, Op. 96: II. Adagio
Sinfonia breve, Op. 96: III. Moderato un poco maestoso

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