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Ernst KRENEK (1900-1991)
Monolog der Stella Op.57 (1928) [6.50]
Ô Lacrymosa Op.48 (1926) [7.09]
Durch die Nacht Op.67 (1930-31) [19.07]
Die Nachtigall Op.68 (1931) [7.09]
Wechselrahmen Op.189 (1964-66) [13.22]
Two Silent Watchers Op.222 (1975) [4.26]
Ilana Davidson (soprano)
Debra Ayers (piano)
Recorded at the Purchase Performing Arts Centre Concert Hall, December 2003
CAPRICCIO 67 133 [57.16]

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Capriccio has done well for Krenek. They’ve recorded his one-act operas from the later 1920s and also his piano works (all have been reviewed on this site) as well as his string quartets. So it should be no surprise that they now extend the same largesse to his lieder and they spread the net widely, ranging from 1926 to 1975, his Op.222. Songs were a constant throughout his life and it should be no surprise that one who had written a large number of texts should prove so adept at setting the words of others.

Monolog der Stella, to words by Goethe, is a short concertante piece, tonal, expressive but one that embodies a rather larky nineteenth century coloratura moment, one that occupies the borderline between pastiche and affection. It’s a rather oddly fashioned work, moving from the gestures of the first part to the more extrovert – one might almost say perky – and deliberate archaisms of the second. Two years earlier Krenek had written Ô Lacrymosa, three poems sent to the composer by the poet Rilke shortly before his death. The association of course has resonance and the collaboration between the young composer and the older poet an intriguing study. Krenek certainly catches the reflective intimacy and silences of the first, one that ends in tonal surety and vests the third with a restless vampy piano part. Here though he pushes the voice ungratefully high – it feels rather like it in this performance – for all that he ends in an affirmative way.

The cycle Durch die Nacht, takes us to the beginning of the next decade. Here Krenek joins the songs through a linking passage on the piano. He variously flirts with atonality but also cleaves more strongly to late romanticism. The fifth setting has an appealing gentleness about it and Krenek’s bridging passages become more and more ingenious as the cycle progresses until the final song with its glinting treble and warm, consoling chording in the left hand. Die Nachtigall of 1931 reverts to the earlier coloratura extravagances of the Goethe Monolog. In this we hear part melisma, part pastiche but there’s also some highly sophisticated technical devices and a clever thinning of both the solo and the accompanying part to single lines.

Wechselrahmen was written during 1964 and 1966. Here clusters and expressionism have come to the fore. There’s a jagged quality to the writing that isn’t immediately appealing, a tough and sinewy declamation. By the time of his setting of Randulph’ s Two Silent Watchers a decade later we find that the vocal and piano lines have become almost entirely independent of each other. The effect is one of a certain amount of alienation.

Ilana Davidson and Debra Ayers cope relatively well with Krenek’s demands. Though the pianist bears quite a brunt it’s the soprano soloist who’s pushed towards acts of coloratura rodomontade. Quite a few of Krenek’s lines lie very high and this causes Davidson problems. However, chances of hearing this repertoire are few and the performances certainly warrant close listening. There are full notes and texts.

I can’t say it was unmitigated joy listening to his songs – I much prefer his operatic work – but Krenek’s is a powerful voice and it needs to be heard.

Jonathan Woolf

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