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Ernst KRENEK (1900-1991)
Three One Act operas

Der Diktator Op.49 (1926)
Der Diktator – Urban Malmberg (baritone)
Charlotte – Celina Lindsley (soprano)
Der Offizier – Robert Wörle (tenor)
Maria – Gabrielle Ronge (soprano)
Schwergewicht oder Die Ehre Der Nation Op.55 (1927)
Adam Ochsenschwanz – Roland Bracht (bass)
Evelyne - Celina Lindsley (soprano)
Gaston - Robert Wörle (tenor)
Professor Himmelhuber - Urban Malmberg (baritone)
Anna Maria Himmelhuber – Bogna Bartosz (mezzo soprano)
Ein Journalist – Daniel Kirch (tenor)
Ein Regierungstrat – Markus Sandmann (tenor)
Das Geheime Königreich Op.50 (1927)
Der König – Michael Kraus (baritone)
Die König in – Claudia Barainsky (soprano)
Der Narr - Urban Malmberg (baritone)
Der Rebell – Pär Lindskog (tenor)
Die drei singended Damen - Celina Lindsley (soprano) Silvia Weiss (mezzo soprano), Michelle Breed (alto)
Erster Revolutionär – Falko Maiwald (tenor)
Zweiter Revolutionär – Egbert Junghanns (bass)
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Marek Janowski
Recorded Berlin-Dahlem Jesus-Christus-Kirche 1998 and 1999
CAPRICCIO 60 107 [44.17 + 42.12]


After his atonal Second Symphony and the taboo-busting symbolist Jonny Spielt Auf Krenek set to work on a trilogy of one act operas that was complete almost within a year. The earlier stylistic extremes were replaced by a return to what he once called a Puccinian cantilena – but the intensity of composition saw no let-up. No sooner was the ink dry on Jonny (four days in fact) than The Dictator was begun, a satire on Mussolini. It lasts twenty-five minutes, a strongly compressed piece that opens in taut neo-classical style and is broadly traditional and post-Wagnerian. It’s fuelled by the will to Power and Desire, turbulent fusions of politics and sexuality: revenge and assassination attempts thwarted by the seductive allure of the Great Man and bitter ironies of that kind. Thus recollections are accompanied by discordant orchestral interjections and the most rapturous and romantic music in the whole opera occurs as the wife of the crippled, war-blinded officer sings with him a bel canto duet in which they muse on the subject of killing the Dictator. There’s a fugal start to Scene II, which grows in romantic authority until a trio of exultant lyricism emerges. All this underscores assertions of will, the corruptibility of political design by human glamour and power and the tragic-comedic alignments of sexuality.

Das Geheime Königreich (The Secret Kingdom) followed hard on the heels of The Dictator. It’s a more benign work in which a King, constantly proclaiming his unworthiness, effectively renounces his crown to his duplicitous Queen. His Court Jester guards the Crown until he is tricked into relinquishing it; meanwhile a civil war rages. If there were at least the vaguest of Straussian hints in The Dictator, here we have distinct Mozartian allusions, in the form of a trio of scolding women. Opening with an expressionist cryto-Bergian choral cry we are soon released on some rococo music for the Jester. The King, pursued, is accompanied by a mordant and weary sounding bassoon and there’s plenty of shrewish up-to-date coloratura and contemporary dance with mildly satiric intent. In fact there is a lot packed into a short, if chaotic, book: a drunk scene, Ovidian Metamorphosis, Straussian cheek and Midsummer Night’s Dream Mendelssohnianisms. Perhaps against my better judgement I loved it.

The last of the trio of one acters was a spoof on the then vogue for the Boxer, embodiment of the Male, entitled Schwergewicht oder Die Ehre Der Nation (Heavyweight or The Glory of the Nation). How to describe this tumultuous fifteen-minute riot? There’s plenty of dance music – especially Latin American – in the sliver of an Introduction as well as waltzes. The orchestra undercuts the journalist with a fatuous trumpet line. A pushy intellectual with her "strong subconscious" enjoys being smacked about by the boxer, and adultery and prurience rule the roost. Meanwhile the object of everyone’s fascination, the dumb ox boxer, gets strapped to his rowing machine maybe for perpetuity, a kind of Sisyphean horror that Krenek likes to inflict on his deranged cast of Weimar socio-sexual misfits.

The performances under Marek Janowski are thoroughly accomplished - hard-edged and brittle, or faux melismatically romantic as necessary. The orchestra has a fine and pungent array of principals. The acoustic of the Jesus-Christus-Kirche is sympathetically captured. Texts are in English as well as German; notes are bilingual, majoring on the technical means Krenek employs to distinguish and make thematic points. It all makes for a tangy mid-twenties brew.

Jonathan Woolf


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