PAUL GRAENER - Orchestral Works Vol. 1

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PAUL GRAENER - Orchestral Works Vol. 1 - Werner Andreas Albert (Conductor) - NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover - 761203744725 - Released: April 2012 - CPO 777447-2

1) Comedietta, Op. 82
2) Variations on a Russian Folksong, Op. 55
3) Musik am Abend, Op. 44
4) Sinfonia breve, Op. 96

Leave it to a label like CPO to once again go out on a limb, or colour outside the lines if you may, and seek out neglected music by unjustly overlooked composers. Although in the case of Paul Graener (1872-1944), it may have more to do with being unjustly shunned and avoided rather than being overlooked, due to his short stint as a cultural politician for the Nazi party, although the degree to which Graener sympathized with Nazi principles may be open for discussion. He was born in Berlin but moved to London in 1896 where he held the post of conductor at the London Royal Theatre Haymarket for over a decade. In 1910 he returned to live in Vienna, Salzburg, Dresden, Munich and back to Berlin where he eventually became the successor to Wilhelm Furtwängler as vice president of the "Reichsmusikkammer". His tenure there was short lived, possibly due to the fact that he promoted and supported the efforts of many Jewish composers at the time.

His music, or at least the orchestral works gathered on this CD, present a retrospective, conservative composer, with a flair for subtle yet effective harmonic and melodic dénouement of his clever and imaginative ideas. Despite the fact that everything seems wrapped in a shroud of serious, the music's sunny disposition never fails to shine through. It's like a cross between Kurt Atterberg for the faster movements, and Lars-Erik Larsson during the slower lyrical passages. His vivid imagination is well in evidence in the Variations on a Russian Folksong, Op. 55 during which the simple melody of the Song of the Volga Boatmen takes on a multitude of clever disguises and permutations. Graener's gift lies in establishing a scene or an atmosphere without overdoing it. For example, the Adagio movement of the Musik am Abend, Op. 44 (Music in the Evening), is lyrical beauty at its best without the pathos associated with nightfall.

In this new recording, his music always benefits from commited playing from the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra Hannover under the direction of Werner Andreas Albert who obviously sees more to it than meets the untrained ear. During my initial audition of this CD, "straightforward" was the only adjective that immediately came to mind. But after repeated listenings, "clever, inventive and spirited" can be listed as its qualities. It deserves a hearing, for many good reasons, one of which to support CPO in their continued efforts to explore these neglected composers and raise them up a few notches up the genealogical tree of music history.

Jean-Yves Duperron - May 2012