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Friday, August 25, 2017

Ernst Krenek, Complete Piano Concertos, Volume Two

A composer as long lived (1900-1991) and as productive as Ernst Krenek may in the end suffer neglect in the years following his death. And then as time moves on he may happily be subject to re-evaluation. The positive sign of that is in a welcome survey of his Complete Piano Concertos, of which today I report in on Volume Two (Toccata 0392). It is a finely honed interpretation of four of the seven works that make up the total, featuring Mikhail Korzhev and Eric Huebner on pianos, additional soloists as needed, and the English Symphony Orchestra under Kenneth Woods.

Krenek was one of the master high modernists of last century, but perhaps more recognized as a cutting-edge force in the earlier days of his career. Blame that no doubt on the upheavals in Europe beginning in the thirties, leading to unspeakable degeneration and savagery in the years following. Three of the concerted works in the volume stem from 1950-51; the other is from 1940. All are finely wrought masterworks that combine a personal approach to serialism and non-serial elements, the latter of a characteristic and local thematic sort.

The "Piano Concerto No. 4, Op. 123" (1950), in first recording incredibly enough, has a remarkable balance between piano assertions and orchestral weight. The far reaches of modern harmonic possibilities prevail, yet the orchestrational and expressive structures bring forth a highly accessible discursive fluidity.

The "Concerto for Two Pianos, Op. 127" (1951) alternates a dramatically thickened density at times, thanks to the two-pronged solo possibilities, with quieter luminescences that evoke a sort of hushed twilight feel.This is another most welcome first recording.

As the listener segues to the "Double Concerto for Violin and Piano, Op. 124" (1950) she or he finds a different balance of expression made possible by the two emotional and aural dimensions available via the two solo instruments. An elaborate three-way dialog between violin, piano and orchestra acts as a brilliantly transparent window into a sonic landscape that moves continually between the three poles of musical discourse. This third and final first recording of the volume once again alerts us to how fully mid-century Krenek was in control of the expressive spectrum available in the concerted form.

The final, brief "Little Concerto for Piano and Organ, Op. 88" (1940) unveils yet another sonic brilliance, with piano and organ fleshing out a tandem singularity that expresses much in the most compact ways.

In sum this volume is a treasure of Krenek at a mid-century peak. The music is invariably excellent and moving. That so much of it is virtually unknown today is all the more reason to obtain this volume and listen deeply to it.

Highly recommended!

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