Krenek: Complete Piano Concertos, Volume Two (CD review)

Double Concerto; Little Concerto; Concerto for Two Pianos; Piano Concerto No. 4. Mikhail Korzhev, piano; Eric Huebner, piano; Nurit Pacht, violin; Adrian Partington, organ. Kenneth Woods, English Symphony Orchestra. Toccata Classics TOCC 0392.

In a booklet note accompanying this disc, author/teacher/conductor Peter Tregear writes, "Ernst Krenek's reputation as a 'one-man history of twentieth century music' is nothing if not well deserved." I think he probably means that the Austrian-born American composer Ernst Krenek (1900-1991) produced over 240 works in his lifetime, adopting a variety of compositional forms along the way, from late-Romantic to atonality, from neoclassicism to experimental jazz, and from modal counterpoint to twelve-tone writing, serial techniques, and electronic music. He mainly earned a living, though, by teaching, lecturing, and completing the unfinished material of other composers, and today he may be more famous for his short-lived marriage to the daughter of Gustav Mahler than for anything he composed.

Anyway, in 2016 Toccata Classics released the first volume of Krenek's complete piano concertos with Mikhail Korzhev, piano, and Kenneth Woods leading the English Symphony Orchestra. It contained the first three of Krenek's four solo piano concertos, and this second volume with the same forces contains the fourth one, along with several other, shorter concerto works that make Volume Two even more varied and interesting than the first disc.

The program begins with Krenek's Piano Concerto No. 4, Op. 123, which he wrote in 1950. What I said about the performance team last year still applies: Korzhev's piano playing is scintillating, Woods's direction is warmly encouraging, and the orchestra is uniformly precise. For me, the Fourth Concerto is also the most fascinating and perhaps the most consciously modern, meaning it's nothing that you're going to go away humming, but it's something that may rivet your attention from beginning to end. Also, interestingly, Korshev, Woods, and the English Symphony give it its premiere recording. You'd think somebody in the past sixty-odd years would have found the music attractive enough to record, but I guess some things just get lost in the shuffle. Thank goodness for people like Woods championing a good cause.

Kenneth Woods
So, the first movement starts us off in a somewhat tumultuous state (marked "agitato" or agitated and "pesante" or heavy), its cadences unremitting. The second, slow movement is both lyrical and slightly atonal, which also seems a contradiction, yet works. The third and final movement is the most stylistically varied, a kind of march, and the most insistently rhythmic. Pianist Korzhev gets us through it with verve aplenty, and Maestro Woods and his players accompany him with an equal zest.

Next is the Concerto for Two Pianos, Op. 127, written in 1951, in which pianist Eric Huebner joins Mr. Korzhev. It's in four short movements and alternates between the sublime and the frenetic. The fact that I did not particularly enjoy it seems irrelevant; it's vibrant, pulsating, and dynamic in the capable hands of the soloists and orchestra.

After that is the Double Concerto for Violin and Piano, Op. 124 from 1950, with violinist Nurit Pacht joining Mr. Korzhev. This work is in six or seven movements, depending on how you break up the final one. Despite the number of movements, the whole piece is quite brief, the movements only two or three minutes each. The dialogue between the violin and piano (the violin usually dominant) is casual and intimate, the music dance-like. The performers do up the work in an elegant manner, giving it a modern yet quaintly old-fashioned feeling.

The program ends with the Little Concerto for Piano and Organ, Op. 88 from 1940, with organist Adrian Partington joining in the fun. The orchestral accompaniment is the most diminutive in this selection, the score almost salon-like in its chamber setting. The music is also at its most poetic here, the organ gently filling in a quiet background. There is nothing ostentatious about the piece, just a sweet, generally tenderhearted little ditty performed with warmth and affection.

Producer Michael Haas and engineer Ben Connellan recorded the concertos at Wyastone Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, Wales in September 2016. The sound is a little close and sometimes highlights instruments unnecessarily, but it nevertheless provides good orchestral depth and excellent clarity. There is nothing harsh, bright, or edgy about the sonics; indeed, it is quite the contrary, with smooth, detailed sound all the way around, especially the highs, which truly shimmer and glisten.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


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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 (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa