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Krenek: Music For Chamber Orchestra Zubel, Hausmann, Leopoldinum Orchestra, Kovacic

Krenek: Music For Chamber Orchestra Zubel, Hausmann, Leopoldinum Orchestra, Kovacic

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5 works for chamber orchestra by Krenek were written between 1931 and 1979 – both before and long after Krenek abandoned Hitler’s Austria for California. The emotions embraced here range from translucent lyricism, via powerful dramatic utterance, to uneasy existentialist humour – and much of it is very beautiful.


This disc is titled Music for Chamber Orchestra, but Krenek uses large forces; the orchestra personnel list includes a string complement of 6/5/5/4/2, plus multiple woodwinds, trumpet, trombones, four percussionists, harp, celesta, piano, and guitar. Warsaw’s Chamber Orchestra Leopoldinum will need neither recommendation nor resumé for those who hear this disc; the musicians, their instruments, and their ensemble are perfection. Ernst Kovacic is an Austrian violinist as well as conductor; he has been director of the Leopoldinum since 2007 and has a marvelous feel for Krenek’s idiom.

The Nightingale was written in 1931, when Krenek was 31; the other works came to fruition in his 8th decade, from 1971 to 1979. The 10-minute Von Vorn Herein is “a mixture of freely invented sections and those based on a twelve-tone row” (from the penetrating program notes by Krenek scholar Peter Tregear). Its opening measures have a distinct flavor of Schoenberg’s First Chamber Symphony, and it then pursues its own “old-fashioned expressionistic” (Krenek) path, closing with a loud yawp from the trombones—a far cry from what we think of as a chamber orchestra work. Im Tal der Zeit includes references to Krenek’s earlier, tonal works but comes across as a colorful, gentle gloss on Schoenberg’s Five Pieces, op. 16. Krenek had an unparalleled ability to make atonal music graceful and pleasing. Static and Ecstatic consists of 10 short movements, half of them serial and half freely composed. In his Ernst Kernek, The Man and His Music, John L. Stewart writes “The music is so sensual, so eloquent, and so immediately enticing that one is inclined to regret the years Krenek spent on the stark, obdurate serial works…” The Dissembler is an odd combination of the playful and the serious, a monologue (in English) about acting by an actor, touching on metaphysics (“But—what is truth?”), with quotes ranging from Euripides and Goethe to the Bible and Krenek’s own writings—each in its original language. The solo line varies from speech to Sprechstimme to song. The serial music suits the concept, as does a bass drum joining a chamber ensemble. Tregear again: “A dissembler is also someone who plays against convention and authority, a jester who resides inside the cloak of a sober classicist.” Krenek indeed!

Amid all this fascinating semi-serialism comes a magical orchestral song, a setting of Karl Kraus’s poem The Nightingale. The high-soprano vocal line has the luxurious golden ease of Richard Strauss’s writing for Sophie or Daphne, backed by a delicate, Mahlerian accompaniment. It is sung with stunning grace and lucidity by Agata Zubel, who is also a composer teaching at Warsaw’s Academy of Music. If Want Lists consisted of individual works, these eight minutes would be a sure bet. This Toccata Classics CD is a model of fine production values. Magisterial performances and honest, well-balanced sound aid Krenek’s eloquent music; the booklet includes complete texts and translations, plus artist bios and a list of orchestra personnel. It is an absolute must for Krenek fanciers, and everyone should hear The Nightingale.

-- Fanfare

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  • Release Specifications

    • Number of Discs: 1
    • Release Date:
    • Label: Toccata Classics
    • UPC/Barcode: 5060113441256
    • Item Number: