For many listeners of 'a certain age' Paul Kletzki is a familiar name, but frequently little more than that. Born Paul Klecki (he later changed the spelling to ensure correct pronunciation) in Lodz, Poland in 1900 Kletzki's recording career has been overshadowed by those of his more illustrious contemporaries. For this listener at least, the mental image of Kletzki as a journeyman conductor in an age of giants is severely dented by this new EMI issue.
The major works on this well-filled midprice issue are the symphonies. The Mahler 4 is a very fine reading indeed, although, for my taste, it is ultimately perhaps a little too earthbound – perhaps soprano Emmy Loose must shoulder part of the blame here. The adagietto from the 5th (is the rest still in the vaults?) is more impressive, and, at 9:58, refuses to indulge in any of the late-Bernstein lachrymose gestures which seem so fashionable today.
The crown of this collection, though, is the Sibelius 2nd. Dating, according to the booklet, from July 1955, this must have been among EMI's earliest stereo recordings, although one would be hard put to guess its age from the sound, which may lack subtlety, but is never lacking in detail or body.
And the interpretation is stunning, full-bodied and Romantic; in the first movement, while not approaching Kajanus's or Järvi's overall record timings, Kletzki's 9:17 shows just how misleading such timings can be. The opening pages may strike some as relatively sober, but is the last such moment in a reading of tremendous passion and fire, and at times wildly fluctuating tempi. Such extremes may be less than fashionable today, but great musicianship will never go out of fashion, and this version ranks with my very favourites.
The shorter, less familiar, pieces are great fun – particularly Glinka's piece of cod-Espagñol which had never come my way before – but the real surprise among them was the Schubert overture, which receives one of the most powerful and muscular performances I have ever heard.
I hope this is not the last word on Kletzki from EMI – although I see that they have left it to Testament to reissue his Sibelius 1st and 3rd.
Copyright © 1996, Deryk Barker