Krenek: Piano Concertos Nos. 1-3 (CD review)

Mikhail Korzhev, piano; Kenneth Woods, English Symphony Orchestra. Toccata Classics TOCC 0323.

Here's another composer you may not know. Or maybe you do because the Austrian-born American composer and writer Ernst Krenek (1900-1991) does have several dozen albums to his credit. However, even more than his music, he may have been famous for his short-lived marriage to Anna Mahler, the daughter of Gustav Mahler; who knows. He earned a living largely by teaching, lecturing, and completing the unfinished material of other composers, despite his writing over 240 of his own works. Whatever, the conductor and cellist Kenneth Woods has taken up Krenek's cause, and perhaps he will help revitalize the composer's name as he did with his recordings of Austrian-British composer Hans Gal several years earlier. This time, Maestro Woods is working with pianist Mikhail Korzhev and the English Symphony Orchestra, of which Woods has been Principal Conductor since 2013.

Throughout his career, Ernst Krenek adopted a variety of compositional forms, from late-Romantic to modern atonality, from neoclassicism to experimental jazz, and from modal counterpoint to twelve-tone writing, serial techniques, and electronic music, making him truly a man for all seasons. I wonder, however, if he had settled down to one particular style, if people would have better appreciated his music today? Again, who knows. As an example of how little audiences know Krenek's concertos, the first two of the concertos on the present disc receive their premiere recordings.

Anyway, the album offers what the folks at Toccata Classics say are the "complete piano concertos," Nos. 1-3, written between 1923 and 1946, even though most of the on-line references I consulted list a fourth concerto as well. Apparently, the fourth of the concertos will appear on a second volume. Whatever, the program presents the first three concertos in chronological order, starting with the Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp major, Op. 18 (1923). It's the most conventional in style, a sort of quasi-Romantic piece.

The opening movement is securely in the late-Romantic tradition, with traces of a Debussy-like dreaminess about it. The second movement is more rhythmic, more pulsating, more radiant. By the third movement, the piece is back to a sweet, comforting mode, and then the finale provides a fairly rollicking, easily communicative close.

Mikhail Korzhev
I'm not sure how one should perform the music, my never having heard it before, but I can't imagine anyone doing it any better than this. Korzhev's piano playing is scintillating, Woods's direction is warmly encouraging, and the orchestra is uniformly precise, together giving the score all the interpretive support it could ask for. It's hard to imagine any other pianist, conductor, or orchestra doing anything more for Krenek's work.

Next is the Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 81 (1937), in which Krenek employed a twelve-tone technique. The result is a darker, more dissonant piece, one that pianist Korzhev says contains both "nostalgic longing for the 'old world'" (Krenek wrote it just before he fled Austria for America) and "dreadful premonitions" (presumably of World War II and its catastrophic effects on the world). After that, we get the little Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 107 (1946), which sounds the most rambunctious, the most overtly flamboyant of the lot, with the piano waging more obvious contests with the various sections of the orchestra.

The Second and Third Concertos are distinctly different from the First, yet Korzhev, Woods, and company present them in an easily accessible manner. This is modern music for people who don't usually like the dissonances and peculiarities of much modern music. The extravagance of the Third Concerto sounds particularly appealing in contrast to the relative serenity of the First. The diversity of the three works goes a long way toward illustrating the composer's musical evolution.

Producer Michael Haas and engineer Ben Connellan recorded the music at Wyastone Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, Wales in September 2015. From the quiet opening notes to the loudest crescendos, the sound appears smooth, well focused, dynamic, broad, and well extended. The sense of the hall around the orchestra and piano is especially welcome, as the hall's warm, mildly reverberant acoustic contributes strongly to the disc's overall realistic effect. The engineer always keeps the piano well integrated with the orchestra, too: just slightly forward of the other players but not in your face. What's more, there is a genuine sense of depth to the ensemble, giving the whole affair a most-natural perspective.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:


Classical Music News of the Week, April 30, 2016

Classical Tahoe Announces 2016 Summer Season, Guest Soloists, and New Name

For its 5th season, Classical Tahoe, formerly Lake Tahoe SummerFest, brings together 40 nationally recognized musicians to Lake Tahoe for a three-week festival beginning July 26 through Aug. 13. Under the direction of Conductor and Artistic Director Joel Revzen, the 11-concert series is designed to support Tahoe's cultural growth while bringing together an all-star assembly of musicians from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Seattle Symphony, LA Phil, Reno Phil and other exceptional orchestras throughout the world.

Maestro Revzen says, "For this special 5th anniversary season, Classical Tahoe highlights famous fifths including Mozart's 5th Violin Concerto and Beethoven's powerful 5th Symphony. We'll also feature selections that make this season our most varied, from Handel and Vivaldi to Stravinsky and Brubeck. All of this, plus intimate and engaging 'Meet the Music' concerts where we will shine a spotlight on our extraordinary musicians in chamber concerts giving a unique opportunity to experience, close-up and exceptional classical music."

The name evolution from Lake Tahoe SummerFest to Classical Tahoe was completed to highlight the true focus and caliber of music performances this festival is noted for. The name Classical Tahoe combines the two main stars of the festival: the extraordinary classical musicians with the unmatched beauty of Lake Tahoe.

"This year we are thrilled to celebrate our 5th season. When we took a close look at the festival and what really makes it stand out, the name Classical Tahoe seemed the perfect description," Board Chair Marna Broida said. "Combine our world-renowned musicians with the undeniable beauty of the Tahoe Basin and you have a classical music festival.

For tickets and more information, call (775) 298-0245 or visit ClassicalTahoe.org

--Allyson Bolton, RAD Strategies, Inc.

National Philharmonic Performs Tchaikovsky and Brahms at Strathmore
The National Philharmonic, led by Music Director and Conductor Piotr Gajewski, performs Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 ("Pathétique") on Saturday, June 4 at 8pm at the Music Center at Strathmore. The concert will also feature the National Philharmonic's nearly 200 voice all-volunteer chorale performing Brahms's Gesang der Parzen ("Song of the Fates") and Nänie.

A free pre-concert lecture with Associate Conductor Victoria Gau will be presented in the Concert Hall at 6:45 p.m. on Saturday. In addition, the National Philharmonic will offer its first free instrument petting zoo, where children and their families can explore and learn about orchestral instruments, from 7-7:30 pm in the Orchestra Lobby. Concert tickets start at $29 and are free for children ages 7-17 through the ALL KIDS, ALL FREE, ALL THE TIME program. ALL KIDS tickets must be reserved by calling (301-581-5100) or visiting the Strathmore Box Office. Parking is complimentary. Strathmore is located at 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD 20852. For more information or to purchase tickets, go to www.nationalphilharmonic.org or call 301-581-5100.

--Deborah Birnbaum, Kirshbaum Associates

Three-Hundred-Year Old" Joachim-Ma" Stradivarius Violin to New England Conservatory
New England Conservatory recently announced that the estate of world-renowned violinist, educator and NEC alum, Si-Hon Ma ('50 M.M, '52 A.D) has gifted the 1714 "Joachim-Ma" Stradivarius violin to the school.

The three-hundred-year old instrument was previously owned by 19th century, Hungarian virtuoso, Joseph Joachim who died in 1907. Joachim owned no less than 10 Stradivari violins during his lifetime, but he is most closely associated with the Cremona-built "Joachim, Ma" violin, which was most likely the violin he played when he premiered the Brahms Violin Concerto Opus 77 in 1879. Joachim and Ma were united by a similar artistic path, as Ma's teachers Alfred Wittenberg and Richard Burgin, were both students to Joachim. Ma purchased the Stradivari owned by Joachim on August 15, 1967, the 60th anniversary of the death of Joachim and performed on it for almost his entire career. The violin is named after both musicians.

The Conservatory will debut the instrument on April 23, 2016 in an NEC student and faculty recital in Jordan Hall.

For more information, visit http://necmusic.edu/

--Lisa Helfer Elghazi, Media Relations

Cal Performances at UC Berkeley Announces 2016/17 Season
Cal Performances' board of trustees chair Gail Rubinfeld and executive and artistic director Matías Tarnopolsky today announce the 2016–17 season, featuring two world premieres, four co-commissions, return engagements with world-class performing artists, and the second season of Berkeley RADICAL. Under the banner of Berkeley RADICAL, artists, curators, UC Berkeley faculty, and other noted figures create imaginative, immersive programs to enhance the commissioning, creation, and presentation mission of Cal Performances by the aspiration to increase artistic literacy for the next generation and beyond.

For the complete schedule, visit https://calperformances.org/

--Louisa Spier, Cal Performances

American Academy of Arts and Sciences Elects NEC's Kim Kashkashian to the Class of 2016
New England Conservatory announces today that internationally respected violist, faculty member, and Kim Kashkashian has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Kashkasian joins a group of 213 new members who the American Academy of Arts and Sciences has elected to its 236th class. The 2016 inductees include some of the world's most accomplished scholars, scientists, writers, artists, as well as civic, business, and philanthropic leaders. A private induction ceremony will be held for the newly elected members on October 8, 2016 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

A complete list of the new members may be found at this link: www.amacad.org/members

--Lisa Helfer Elghazi, Media Relations

American Bach Soloists Announce 2016-2017 Season
ABS and Maestro Jeffrey Thomas are pleased to share with you their 2016-17 Season featuring the 7th annual ABS Festival & Academy, annual fundraising Gala, beloved Holiday concerts, and critically acclaimed main season programs.

ABS Festival & Academy: "An Italian Journey"
August 5-14, 2016; St. Mark's Lutheran Church / San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Carmelite Vespers & Vivaldi's Gloria
The Festival opens with large-scale sacred masterworks from Baroque Italy, including Handel's Dixit Dominus and Vivaldi's Gloria. August 5, 2016; 8:00 pm; St. Mark's Lutheran Church, San Francisco.

Postcards from The Grand Tour
Captivating works by Italian composers Albinoni, Caldara, Frescobaldi, Vivaldi, and others performed by the ABS Academy Faculty, an outstanding group of worldwide leaders of the Early Music movement. August 6, 2016; 8:00 pm; St. Mark's Lutheran Church; San Francisco.

Bach's Mass in B Minor
Bach's masterpiece is the pinnacle of the Baroque repertory and an annual tradition of the ABS Festival. Jeffrey Thomas conducts the ABS Festival Orchestra and the American Bach Choir in two acoustically splendid San Francisco venues.
August 7, 2016; 7:00 pm; St. Mark's Lutheran Church, San Francisco
August 14, 2016; 2:00 pm; San Francisco Conservatory of Music, San Francisco.

Baroque Marathon, Parts I, II, III FREE
Academy-in-Action concerts showcasing the talents of ABS Academy participants—the next generation of early music virtuosi—in works by Baroque masters.
August 8, 2016; 3:00 pm; San Francisco Conservatory of Music
August 8, 2016; 8:00 pm; San Francisco Conservatory of Music
August 9, 2016; 8:00 pm; San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Handel's Parnasso in Festa (North American premiere performances)
Handel's rarely performed serenata is set on the slopes of Mount Parnassus where Apollo and the nine muses oversee a marriage between the mortal Peleus and the divine Thetis, parents of the legendary hero, Achilles. Jeffrey Thomas conducts the ABS Academy Festival Orchestra and the American Bach Choir in the North American premiere of this charming work of stunning beauty and musical variety.
August 11, 2016; San Francisco Conservatory of Music
August 12, 2016; San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Virtuosi of Venice & Rome
The expert period-instrumentalists of ABS, conducted by Jeffrey Thomas, take center stage for thrilling performances of Italian Baroque concertos that were composed for especially virtuoso players and orchestras. August 13, 2016; 8:00 pm; San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

For complete information, visit http://americanbach.org/

--Jeff McMillan, American Bach Soloists

Is "Early Music" Always from Europe?
Salon/Sanctuary Concerts, in collaboration with the Goddard Riverside Community Center presents two unique concerts which explore some unseen faces of Historical Performance.

Friday, May 20th:
Exodus: Dreams of the Promised Land in Antebellum America
Features acclaimed a cappella group The Western Wind in a concert of music from the earliest days of the United States. Works by William Billings (1746 – 1800), Stephen Jenks (1772-1856), Elkanah Kelsey Dare (1782-1826), and Matilda T. Durham (1815-1901), along with Shaker hymns, part songs, proto spirituals both Black and White attest to the vital hold that biblical Liberation imagery held over the early American consciousness. A surprisingly complex musical landscape emerged from an embryonic nation, a soundscape and culture that grew from dreams of freedom and the labor of slaves.

Tuesday, May 24th:
In the Beginning: Early Music of Western Africa
Features chants and dances of Western Africa pre-date by centuries any music that we currently refer to as "early." Some of the oldest music known to us today – music that survived a harrowing ocean journey, centuries in the shadows of the Land of the Free, continues to pulse with enduring power through the amplified soundscape of modern popular song.

The Bernie Wohl Center of Goddard Riverside
647 Columbus Avenue between 91st and 92nd Streets, NYC
8 p.m.

For tickets and information, call 1 888 718-4253 or visit http://www.salonsanctuary.org

--Salon/Sanctuary Concerts

Weill Hall: Pianist Yuja Wang
Friday, May 6, 7:30 PM, Weill Hall
Green Music Center, Sonoma State University
Program:
Brahms: Ballades, Op. 10
Schumann: Kreisleriana, Op. 16 "Phantasien für das Pianoforte"
Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-flat Major, Op. 106 "Große Sonate für das Hammerklavier"

Don't let her youth fool you. Twenty-seven-year-old Chinese born-pianist Yuja Wang is the real thing; a world-famous artist who has achieved a level of technical brilliance and interpretive insight that eludes many more experienced artists.

For more information and tickets, visit http://gmc.sonoma.edu/

--Green Music Center

Great Conductors of the 20th Century: Fritz Reiner (CD review)

Emil Gilels, Carol Brice, soloists; Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra, Robin Hood Dell Orchestra, NBC Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. EMI 7243 5 672866 2 7 (2-disc set).

This two-disc set that EMI released in 2004 represents the quality one can find throughout EMI's "Great Conductors of the 20th Century" series, a series I'd like to see Warner Classics continue.
The set covers Hungarian-born conductor Fritz Reiner (1888-1963), who came to America in 1922 and established himself as one of the leading conductors of his day, culminating his career as Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1953 until his death ten years later. Those were ten glorious years, especially as they represented his work in the forefront of the stereophonic recording era.

The Reiner recordings in the present two-disc set include over two-and-a-half hours of music by the conductor, covering most of the man's later career, about half in stereo and half in mono, and containing complete tracks from some of his best EMI, RCA, and Sony (Columbia) recordings from 1946 to 1959. Given that Amazon.com and other retailers are selling the set new and used for anything from $4 to $35, I'd say it's still a bargain.

Fritz Reiner
The set contains a boatload of music, but the centerpiece is the Brahms Second Piano Concerto with Reiner and the Chicago Symphony supporting pianist Emil Gilels in a performance from 1958. Gilels would, of course, go on to make an even more-celebrated recording of the work for DG some years later, but this one is more detailed in sound, one of RCA's "Living Stereo" productions of the time, and just as surefooted in execution. Think of it this way: For the price of the set, you get a terrific Brahms Second Piano Concerto, plus almost two more hours of equally good material. Do I have to say again that it's a bargain?

Among the other pieces in the set are an adrenaline-rushing Beethoven Coriolan Overture in stereo with the CSO from 1959; a terrific Mozart "Linz" Symphony with the CSO in some of the best monaural you'll find; a sparkling Mendelssohn Midsummer Night's Dream Scherzo with the Robin Hood Dell Orchestra, actually the Philadelphia Orchestra, from 1951; Brahms's Tragic Overture, with the CSO in stereo from 1957; some of Wagner's Gotterdammerung and Siegfried's Rhine Journey, also with the CSO in stereo from 1959; Bartok's Hungarian Sketches, CSO, 1958; and Strauss's Till Eulenspiegel, Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin, and Falla's El amor brujo, complete, the latter three items in mono.

Reiner continues to be one of my favorite conductors because like others of his era--Klemperer, Walter, Szell, Stokowski, and many more--he wasn't afraid to be himself, to let his own vision of a composer's work permeate the music, all the while maintaining a strict adherence to the printed score. It's a fine balancing act, to make old standards sound fresh and alive but not to violate their intent. Reiner could do it. Many of today's top conductor's seldom manage the feat, and compared to the vintage maestros they can appear almost commonplace, dull, or boring. And when the older conductors come to us in such good sound and at such reasonable prices, the proposition seems to me irresistible. But, then, maybe it's just me.

JJP

To hear a brief excerpt from this set, click on the forward arrow:


John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (moviemet.com, formerly DVDTOWN) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa