> Ernst Krenek - Karl V [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Ernst KRENEK (1900-1991)
Karl V - Stage Work with music in two parts (1931-3 rev 1954)
Karl V - David Pittman-Jennings
Juana, his mother - Anne Gjevang
Eleonore, his sister - Turid Carlsen
Ferdinand, his brother - Alfons Eberz
Isabella, his wife - Franziska Hirzel
Juan de Regla, his confessor - Christoph Bantzer
Henri Mathys, his physician - Hans Schulze
Francisco Borgia, Jesuit - Werner Hollweg
Czech Philharmonic Chorus of Brno
Orchestra of the Beethovenhalle Bonn/Marc Soustrot
rec 8-14 Oct 2000, Beethovenhalle Bonn DDD
MD&G MDG 337 1082-2 [73.49+66.58]


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Be clear from the outset. This is an austere twelve-tone opera; earnest in the manner of Pfitzner's Palestrina but determined to avoid the 'easy melody'. It mixes singing with speech although singing predominates. There are no conventional arias. Krenek's immersion in the atonal stream can be traced to his years in Vienna. This opera marked the re-setting of his tonal palette to dodecaphony.

Krenek wrote that he had made this opera explicitly anti-Nazi, pro-Austrian and Catholic. The nationalism that destroys King Karl is an analogue of the Nazi nationalism destroying Europe under Hitler. Krenek's ambitions for the piece were probably unrealistic given that he cherished for it an artistic assault in favour of the Austrian identity and renaissance. Dabbling in politics in this way had the predictable result: the planned 1934 premiere in Vienna was cancelled. Krenek departed for the USA. Karl V was nevertheless premiered at the Deutsches Theater, Prague on 15 June 1938. The revised version was produced at Dusseldorf on 11 May 1958.

Krenek was Viennese by birth. He died in Palm Springs, California. He became a US citizen in 1945 having been head of music at Hamline University, St Paul, Minnesota since 1939. In 1947 he moved to Los Angeles. His productivity in no way dimmed and he produced a large number of works in all genres. From Karl V onwards his preferred mode of expression was dodecaphonic. Before that he had written works influenced by the impressionism of his teacher Schrecker and during the mid-1920s he experimented with jazz, fox-trots and blues. The classic work of this intermediate era is the opera Jonny Spielt Auf! which includes a rattle, sounds from a radio, a locomotive whistle and a car horn. There is also a Schubertian-lyric song cycle from the late 1920s.

The opera is in the format of a dialogue between Karl and his confessor. Incidents providing dramatic material mingle with dialogue and commentary. Karl is pictured on his deathbed. He is called upon by the Voice of God to account for his decisions. In Part II Karl is racked with doubts and his judgement is left to God rather than Man. Karl's vision for Austria is painted. There has been at least one earlier LP recording of this opera in 1980 on the Amadeo label. This included Sena Jurinac, Peter Schreier, Theo Adam with the ORF SO conducted by Gerd Albrecht.

The opera proceeds scene by scene: ten in Part I and nine in Part II.

There are occasional flashes of dance rhythms as in the Francis interlude in the 4th section of Part I. This is the most accessible section. Only four years previously Krenek had written the Schubertian song-cycle Reisebuch aus den Österreichischen Alpen (great title!) and just occasionally one catches a hint of what that might have sounded like. Viennese moments can relieve the dark clouds as does the distressed Hispanic flavour in scene 5 of Part I. The writing also picks up on some weighty Beethovenian choral singing. More commonly however the voices are from Lulu or Wozzeck - perhaps crossed with Fidelio. Part II makes heavier use of the spoken word. Grim merriment occasionally lightens the scene but overall this is pretty dour stuff though lit by restless and life-like acting.

This production is superbly documented with full libretto and translations. The notes are in one booklet; the libretto in another.

Recommended for those with case-hardened sinews or those fascinated by the spoor left by the ones who refused to conform. As a historic document this holds the attention. As a work of art ... I have my doubts.

Rob Barnett

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