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Ernst KRENEK (1900-1991)
Music for Chamber Orchestra
Von Vorn Herein, Op.219 (1974) [9:56]
Die Nachtigall, Op.68a (1931) [8:08]
Im Tal der Zeit, Op.232 (1979) [13:21]
Static and Ecstatic, Op.214 (1971-72) [23:48]
The Dissembler, Op.229 (1978) [22:06]
Agata Zubel (soprano: Nachtigall)
Mathias Hausmann (baritone: Dissembler)
Leopoldinum Orchestra/Ernst Kovacic
rec. March 2011 and May 2011 (Im Tal der Zeit), Hall of Radio Wrocław, by CD Accord
TOCCATA TOCC0125 [77:01]

There is some memorable music to be heard in this disc, a selection that ranges from 1931 to 1979, theoretically therefore charting nearly half a century of Krenek’s compositional development. However it should be noted that Die Nachtigall is very much the odd work out; everything else was composed during the 1970s, a fruitful decade for the composer.
 
As a determined non-practitioner of systematic –isms, Krenek invariably spins surprises throughout the course of each of these works. The chance, expressionistic gestures of Von Vorn Herein (‘From the Outset’) emerge as quite the opposite of arid. Instead they are colour-conscious, though taut, fragmentary but structured, reliant on seemingly arbitrary gestures – raucous trombone glissandi, strumming of the piano strings – but liable to break out into an anguished bout of post-Mahlerian string searing. The result is an unforgettable ten minutes. Im Tal der Zeit (‘In the Valley of Time’), heard in this first-ever recording, explores, if anything, more fragmentary ideas but they are harnessed to writing of great energy and rhythmic surety, closely conjoined to passages of overt melancholy; for Krenek the dividing line between extroversion and reflection is invariably unpredictable.
 
Completed in 1972 Static and Ecstatic has ten brief movements, and is a work Krenek ranked as one of his most distinguished for orchestral forces. He mixes static (serial) movements with freely composed ‘interludes’ and the result is remarkable. Favoured brass glissandi and terse, brittle episodic gestures are part of the expressive arsenal of the work, but so too is an austerely beautiful, chorale-like refraction, in which the music’s cool coloration proves absorbing to hear, and impossible to ignore. The Dissembler (1978) is cast for a baritone, a role taken here by Mathias Hausmann. The disparate texts were compiled by Krenek himself – a melange, amongst others, of Biblical, Euripides, and Goethe – and the singer declaims them in a suitably wide variety of ways. This is a work that touches on the cabaret, the satiric, and the stage. Lasting twenty-two minutes it might outstay its welcome were it not for Krenek’s remarkably apt orchestration – notably piano and percussion - his deft coloristic precision, his encouragement of speech declamation and, not to be underestimated, the use of silence.
 
The other work for singer and ensemble is the early Die Nachtigall, Schreker-like in places, with a beautiful soprano line allied to the occasional and possibly anticipated expressive curdle in some string passages. Originally composed for voice and piano it is echt-Krenek, even this early, in its ability to absorb the close proximity in his writing of the atonal and the poetically expressionist.
 
There are excellent performances from both singers, and Agata Zubel is as acute in her perceptive reading of early Krenek as Hausmann is in the more stylistically variegated pleasures of the older composer. The recording in the Hall of Radio Wrocław is first class. Presiding over his soloists and the Leopoldinum Orchestra is a man best known as a violinist, Ernst Kovacic. He proves a splendid agent through which we can experience Krenek’s endlessly fertile and imaginative music.
 
Jonathan Woolf