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Ernst KRENEK (1900-1991)
Potpourri, Op.54 (1927) [17:52]
Seven Orchestra Pieces, Op.31 (1924) [18:31]
‘Pallas Athene’ Symphony, Op.137 (1954) [22:55]
Tricks and Trifles, Op.101 (1945) [17:16]
Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz/Karl-Heinz Steffens
rec. 2019, Ludwigshafen, Philharmonie
CAPRICCIO C5379 [76:42]

Capriccio has selected a worthwhile programme here, choosing orchestral works by Krenek that are seldom recorded and still less often performed in concert. If that sounds like a mopping up operation, I’d dispute the suggestion. Rather it’s an astutely explored examination of some of his more popular but perhaps also chillier musical imperatives in sound performances.

First up is Potpourri, a Weimar-era masquerade that snakes through French elements, romantic reverie, dance rhythms and lightly ushered Ragtime. Appended is a dreamlike piece of Schubert, as well as fresh air surging lyricism - all from the composer of Jonny spielt auf; seldom was a piece more aptly named than Potpourri. You will find this work in CPO’s 4-CD Krenek symphonies release. Three years earlier Krenek had composed the Seven Orchestral Pieces, Op.31. The notes refer to his use of 12-tone here but his use of it was invariably watchful and seldom a full-blooded endorsement. In fact the main impression is one of the nocturne and episodic lyricism, concise and attractive, not least in the high spirits of the final giocoso panel. It’s not at all forbidding, and reveals clever orchestration and fine thematic material.

What is the most forbidding piece in the album is Pallas Athene, the three movement symphony he took from his opera Pallas Athene weint, Op.144. There’s little here to cheer, which is not surprising given the gloomy nature of an opera set in Hell. The three movements are well balanced and almost equally sized. The first is a powerful and turbulent dirge, the second an unsettled Allegretto leading on to an Andante sostenuto of unremitting austerity. There are few sounds of hope here, and none of redemption.

After this I needed a stiff whisky and washed it down with Tricks and Trifles, which is claimed as a world premiere of this orchestral version – it was originally written for piano as the Hurricane Variations, Op.100 (1944) but Krenek subsequently orchestrated it the following year. It is a sequence of 22 variations and a (double) fugue on a theme by one of Krenek’s composition students, Virginia Seay. Here he reveals his full command of variation form in music of warmth and wit; sample the Siciliano (after Brahms) for instance or the eventful series of Canons. It’s hardly a composition at the cutting edge of things but it offers verities that transcend questions of time and place. It also, to be honest, comes as considerable balm after Pallas Athene.
Capriccio is good at providing single-composer albums; Ginastera, Dutilleux, Zimmermann and Dallapiccola are just four of the composers represented in this series of discs. The performances are dedicated and have been well recorded – they derive from the tapes of SWR – so this is worth consideration if the combination of works appeals.

Jonathan Woolf

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