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Ernst KRENEK (1900-1991)
Piano Concerto No. 4, Op.123 (1950) [22.46]
Concerto for two pianos, Op.127 (1951) [14.02]
Double Concerto for violin and piano, Op.124 (1950) [7.15]
Little Concerto for piano and organ, Op.88 (1940) [9.33]
Mikhail Korzhev (piano)
Eric Huebner (piano, op. 127)
Nurit Pacht (violin)
Adrian Partington (organ)
English Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Woods
rec. Wyastone Concert Hall, Wyastone Leas, Monmouth, September 2016
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0392 [64.11]

This Toccata issue comprises Volume Two of the complete Piano Concertos of Krenek, of which I welcomed the first instalment last summer. It not only rounds out the survey of the numbered concertos but includes three further works featuring solo piano, and the principal role is again taken by Mikhail Korzhev; the Fourth Concerto and the Concerto for two pianos are both receiving their first recordings. This second volume also features the same orchestra and conductor, and is similarly produced by Michael Haas whose exploration of Entartete Musik for Decca some twenty years ago brought so many unjustly neglected works and composers to our attention. In my review of the first volume I summarised the career of Krenek, and his progression from a tonal (and sometimes jazz-influenced) style to the dodecaphonic system of Schoenberg. The works on this disc all date from his later years, mainly spent in America when that later style was firmly established; but, as I commented with respect to the Third Concerto, his sense of rhythmic impulse and firm grasp of structure make these pieces much more immediately approachable than many more “earnest” products of the twelve-tone school which emerged during the 1950s.

The Fourth Concerto indeed evokes a sense of Stravinskian neo-classicism in its bubbling finale, “an ingenious fugue in the style of a march” as Peter Tregear’s informative booklet note describes it. Unlike its predecessors it comes in separate movements, as does the Concerto for two pianos, a rumbustious and enjoyable work with a particularly smashing and energetic finale. The Double Concerto for violin and piano consists of seven brief sections played continuously and has an attractive atmosphere. The Little Concerto was written with an option for harpsichord, and as Mikhail Korzhev observes in his contribution to the booklet has a “general transparency of texture” that seems designed for that instrument; again, it consists of six short but linked movements all of which have an immediate appeal. It was originally written with semi-professional players in mind, but as Peter Tregear rightly notes it “betrays a seriousness of artistic purpose as well as quiet good humour.”

The standard of performance here is every bit as good as in the earlier release recorded a year earlier, and those who enjoyed that CD need not hesitate. Not only Korzhev but his fellow soloists in the various double concertos seem to thoroughly enjoy themselves, not only in the emotionally charged nature of much of the music but also in its challenging technical demands. In my review of Volume One, I commented that some of the orchestral playing gave evidence of the strings sounding “stretched” by the demands of the music; I had no such qualms in any of the performances here.

There has been another recording of the Double Concerto in recent times, issued some fifteen years ago on Koch (there was also a mono LP issued around the time of the work’s première), but that seems to have succumbed to the deletions axe long since and Amazon are currently listing second-hand copies at rates ranging from £37.03 to the astronomical price of £174.75. Neither Amazon nor Archiv seem to list any earlier recordings of the Little Concerto at all at the time of writing, nor can I track down any reviews of such. Under the circumstances the question of comparisons seems entirely supernumerary. And one can only be grateful that the performances here are so good. Dan Morgan has already enthused about this release on this site in a review published in May of this year, and I can only concur with his opinions; the Krenek concertos are a real discovery.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

Previous review: Dan Morgan




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