Krenek: Symphonic Elegy, String Quartet Works

Album cover art for upc 845221050331
Catalog: C5033
Format: CD

Leopoldinum Orchestra; Ersnt Kovacic

Wholenote Discoveries - November 2009
I wonder if it is in the very nature of string orchestra music to be lush. A case in point is the otherwise austere music of Austrian 12-tone composer Ernst Krenek (1900-1991). Ernst Kovacic and the Leopoldinum Orchestra of Wroclaw, Poland have just released “Symphonic Elegy – Works for String Orchestra”, a collection of Krenek’s compositions from the middle years of his long career. Rather than the angular, atonal fare we might expect from a proponent of serial techniques of composition, to my ear the six works included here are all quite warm and lyrical. The earliest work is also the latest, in the form of a 1960s arrangement of the Adagio and Fugue movements of the sixth string quartet dating from 1936. The quartet was written at a time when Krenek was in close contact with Anton Webern, who he considered to be “one of the most important composers of all times: Music of a crystal clear perfection.” While strongly influenced by Webern, that master’s miniature approach is not in evidence here – with movements lasting about 8 minutes each. Krenek left Austria in 1938 and settled in the USA. It was there that he heard of Webern’s death in 1945 (fatally shot by an American soldier in the final days of the war in a tragic case of mistaken identity) and composed the Symphonic Elegy in his memory. The work is marked Allegro and is more of a celebration than a mournful cry. The disc includes two collections of short movements – Seven Easy/Light Pieces and Five Short Pieces for Strings – which are more akin to Webern’s architecture, if not his pointillist aesthetic. The final work is the Sinfonietta a Brasileira written on a visit to Rio de Janeiro in 1952. I found myself expecting to hear something reminiscent of the flamboyant music of Villa-Lobos, but other than a few moments of rhythmic motor activity which the liner notes tell us actually refer back to an earlier period of Krenek’s development rather than folk influences, there is nothing particularly suggestive of South America in this work. These fine performances present a very thorough picture of one aspect of this prolific and rarely heard composer, but although all of the pieces are worthy of note, at nearly 80 minutes I found a bit too much sameness in the CD when taken all at once. David Olds

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