Ernst Krenek, the Viennese composer (1900-91), is on a roll at the moment: Hyperion has issued an imposing song-cycle (link below) and Toccata Classics comes up with this first volume of his Piano Concertos, two recorded for the first time.
The First of them, from 1923, opens with a ruminative solo for piano (anticipating Shostakovich’s corresponding work, the one with trumpet). It heralds a thoughtful movement that is at once romantic if tonally unpredictable, sometimes knotted if always intriguing. An athletic Allegro agitato follows, with elements of chorale, music that exhilarates and confides, the latter quality to the fore in the brief Adagio. In fact, this Concerto is an ambitious, continuous four-movement affair that finds Krenek open to all musical styles, absorbed and put back, not least in the Finale, marked Tempo di Menuetto, suddenly light and humorous, developing the dance to suggest Mozart and Korngold had joined Krenek at his writing desk, before a somewhat adjunct cadenza steals in.
Piano Concerto No.2 (1937) – first-performed in Amsterdam with Krenek as soloist, Bruno Walter conducting – is rather more severe, clearly aligned to Schoenberg’s twelve-note system, deftly utilised, organised and angular, and the result would pass in places for Webern. There are five short movements, pivoting on a cadenza, and they make for volatile contrasts, the colourful orchestration not short of brass and percussion. Five even shorter movements constitute the capricious Concerto No.3 (1946), all over in thirteen minutes, music that strikes and expresses in the most compelling way. Economical, yes, but with lots of good things to say.
These dedicated performances, exhaustively prepared and very well recorded, are enhanced by exemplary presentation – embracing three substantial essays, including from the pianist and from the conductor – which ensure that one anticipates keenly the second volume for Krenek’s Fourth and final Piano Concerto and whatever the other pieces are to be.