Eduard KÜNNEKE (1885-1953)
Piano Concerto No.1 op. 36 (1935) [32:13] Zigeunerweisen (1907) [9:31] Serenade (1907) [22:35]
Oliver Triendl (piano)
Munich Radio Orchestra/Ernst Theis
rec. 2015, Studio 1, Bayerischer Rundfunk. DDD CPO 555015-2 [64:25]
Eduard Künneke - a German pupil of Max Bruch - wrote operas, operettas, Broadway musicals and film music. His claim to anything more than an end-note in history lies with his operetta Der Vetter aus Dingsda ("The Cousin from Nowhere") (1921) from which two arias have allowed his name a fitfully flickering life: Strahlender Mond and Ich bin nur ein armer Wandergesell. Thanks to CPO we can now hear a whole disc of his entertaining concert music.
Although we have not reviewed it - and I have never heard it - there is a CD of the very same Piano Concerto No. 1 on Koch Schwann CD 3-1372-2 from 1997. The artists there are Tiny Wirtz (piano), the Rundfunkorchester Des Sudwestfunks conducted by Wlodzimierz Kamirski. So far as the present CD is concerned we instantly know that we are being introduced to feel-good music. This Concerto is in three movements, the first of which is almost half the length of the whole work. It's amply proportioned and lushly late-romantic. Its cut-glass and carillon-sweet writing is redolent of the Grieg Concerto and Rachmaninov 2. For Künneke a smile begets a smile and he is apt to write in smiles. The ubiquitous and magnificently skilled Triendl, Theis and his Munch Radio band play no small part in this. There's a gently hypnotic, sultry and beckoning Moderato followed by a Tchaikovskian Finale which places an operetta-inflected and populist ragtime strut not that far from Victor Herbert. This pays a diverting farewell to the listener but is not quite on a par with the more than capable grandiloquence of that big first movement and the peaceful caress of the Moderato. Künneke makes a come-back kid of that movement's grand manner for a paragraph or two in the finale. This is quite a discovery even if the manner can be very familiar.
The other two works included are more modest in their invention and were written just after the completion of Künneke's studies with Bruch. The Zigeunerweisen is in four little movements that are unlikely to try your patience. They echo with stately Hungarian czardas, bubbling bonhomie (a shade of Luigini) and flighty lightness. The contemporaneous five-movement Serenade is similarly pointed. Its movements encompass the cheesy smooch, shady leafiness, fluttering charm, the sentimental sough, Mendelssohnian faery and the whispering of romantic endearments. Both works are skilled and occasionally sound Elgarian or Brahmsian; listen to the Andante of the Serenade. There's even some Dvořák and Smetana along the way.
Perhaps CPO will be inclined to track down and revive Künneke's other works for piano and orchestra. There's a romantic single-movement second piano concerto and another substantial work in which Künneke provides an orchestration 'around' Schubert's Piano Sonata in D major. There's also an intriguing Jazz Suite for jazz band and orchestra (1929) which has already been recorded by CPO.
The liner essay resists CPO's occasional tendency towards indigestible and oblique philosophising. Instead Gottfried Franz Kasparek gives us the facts and some contextual background. A good choice.
So that's it: feel-good music crafted for easy-access pleasure. All very acceptable provided you do not insist on the last word in originality. It would be a shame if you did.