KRENEK: Symphonic Elegy, Op. 105; 7 Easy Pieces, Op. 146; Adagio and Fugue; 5 Short Pieces for Strings, Op. 116; Symphonic Piece, op. 86; Sinfonietta a Brasileira, Op. 131 – Leopoldinum Orchestra/ Ernst Kovacic – Capriccio

by | Jan 21, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

KRENEK: Symphonic Elegy, Op. 105; 7 Easy Pieces, Op. 146; Adagio and Fugue; 5 Short Pieces for Strings, Op. 116; Symphonic Piece, op. 86; Sinfonietta a Brasileira, Op. 131 – Leopoldinum Orchestra/ Ernst Kovacic  – Capriccio 5033, 78:18 [Distrib. by Naxos] ****: 

Most of the work Ernst Krenek (1900-1991) created is best remembered by his opera  "Jonny spielt auf" and perhaps his Second Symphony. The man was prolific, writing at least 22 operas and a number of symphonies along with a plethora of chamber works. Yet, and perhaps because of his stylistic changes, especially his relatively early conversion to atonality, his music is largely overlooked today. Dimitri Mitropoulos championed him to a great degree, especially the Symphony No. 2 (widely regarded as his finest), yet the general public has not caught on—it is doubtful at this point in time that they will.

However, this excellent new disc from Capriccio might do a little to encourage further exploration of the man’s music. Here we are given a collection of Krenek’s music for string orchestra, spanning a period of 16 years (1939-55). Krenek idolized Anton Webern, considering his work to be the most perfect expression of musical art, and tried to imitate Webern’s craft in his own music, albeit with very different results. The truth is that Krenek never lost his sense of melody even in the maze of twelve-tone mania, and was able to craft dramatic episodes that appeal to the heart in the same way that Webern’s carefully considered constructions appeal to the mind. Well, maybe that’s true; in fact, I think Webern was very much concerned with the heartstrings as well, just in a language that no one knew at the time (and might not know now either). But Krenek’s music is more overtly emotional because of his willingness to engage in the long line, something Webern rarely did.

These pieces might come as somewhat of a surprise to those that think they know what this composer is all about. From the funeral tribute to Webern (the Symphonic Elegy) to the powerful Symphonic Piece, these works display a master composer at work in an idiom that he is entirely comfortable with. The performances are sterling, and the sound matches their level. I don’t know the Leopoldinum Orchestra except that they have been performing since 1979 and are based in Poland, and are fairly small in numbers (17) even though they sound larger here, and I don’t think that is due to the miking. They are superb, and I recommend this to all general music lovers who don’t mind having their eyes and ears opened a bit to the music of someone vastly underrated and misunderstood.

— Steven Ritter

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