COMPOSERS: Ernst Krenek
LABELS: Toccata Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Ernst Krenek Piano Music, Vol. 1
WORKS: Krenek: Piano Sonata No. 4, Op. 114; George Washington’s Variations, Op. 120; Prelude, Wo087; Schubert: Piano Sonata No. 15 in C, D840 (completed by Krenek)
PERFORMER: Stanislav Khristenko (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: TOCC 0298
To be born in Vienna in 1900 would signal an interesting life path for any composer. Such was the lot of Ernst Krenek. Influenced first by the aesthetic of his main teacher, Schreker, and later by his peer group while studying in Berlin, notably the pianist Eduard Erdmann, Krenek absorbed references that at various points encompassed the serialism of Schoenberg, the bite and irony of the alternative worlds of 1920s Berlin, and the poetic imagination of bygone times, especially that of Schubert.
When the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938, Krenek left Europe for the US; he eventually settled in Palm Springs, California. Much of the music on this CD dates from his American years.
Khristenko’s playing offers suitably cool clarity; he articulates lines for melodic eloquence even when that melodic quality is not obvious, and maintains an admirable lightness of touch. The Fourth Piano Sonata (1948) proves chewy, yet translucent. The George Washington Variations (1950) is an enjoyable set based on a ballroom favourite from 1796, traversing many of Krenek’s influences from 12-tone music to jazz.
The completion of the Schubert C major Sonata is earlier, from Krenek’s Berlin years; while it perhaps remains a stubborn imitation of Schubert with an extra layer of irony, rather than convincing us that it could be by the man himself, it is faithful and attentive nonetheless. Less attentive is the CD’s printing, which declares its contents to be Krenek’s ‘Paino music’. Jessica Duchen