The keenly-awaited second volume from Toccata Classics devoted to Ernst Krenek’s four Piano Concertos has arrived, and it’s every bit as worthwhile, supplemented by three other such works featuring the instrument and a guest.
The Viennese-born Krenek (1900-91) completed his Fourth and final Piano Concerto in 1950; it is at once ‘modern’ in musical language and ‘traditional’ in shape, and certainly very listenable. The first movement is darkly entertaining, a macabre waltz with a popular type of tune trying to escape; the colourful orchestration adds some bright relief, and the whole has a circus if sinister atmosphere that parallels the opening of Berg’s Lulu. The relatively lengthy slow movement, bass clarinet and trumpet featured, is expressive if severe and lonely, eerie in places, a dramatic climax built with patience, side drum and brass to the fore. The Finale mixes fugue and march, and although compositional tricks abound the end result for the listener is some intriguing music.
The Concerto for Two Pianos comes from the following year. Its four short movements (alternating fast and slow, playing continuously) last here for fourteen minutes. Premiered in Carnegie Hall with Lowe & Whittemore, Mitropoulos conducting, chiselled rhythms and agreeable lyricism inform the first movement (Prokofiev is cited in the booklet note) whereas the second (Andante) is a sad dance, interrupted by the nifty and bustling third that soon and abruptly turns to Adagio, nominally, for the music quickens to a more resolute conclusion than expected.
The Concerto for Violin and Piano returns us to 1950. Its seventeen minutes embrace seven sections, elegiac to begin with, and including what might be considered Krenek’s trademark dances – particularly this time a Ländler – and marches. It’s a lyrical and shared work, economical and subtle, during which Mikhail Korzhev continues his championing of Krenek’s music, joined by the impressive Nurit Pacht, matched throughout by Kenneth Woods and the English Symphony Orchestra. The other co-soloist is Adrian Partington in the Little Concerto for Piano and Organ (although it can also be two pianos) from 1940. Six movements lasting ten minutes, using a small orchestra, informs of this work’s concentration, if not its lyricism and wit, the piano lively, the organ tending to sombre chords and colours.
These excellent performances are splendidly recorded, all for the first time save for Opus 88, and typical of this adventurous label the presentation is exemplary and includes essays and biographies galore.