A 20th Century Composer Deserving Wider Attention
The Symphonic Elegy Ernst Krenek wrote “in memoriam Anton Webern” is the centerpiece of this recording which features Krenek’s complete music for string orchestra. Krenek considered Webern one of the most important composers in music and praised his “crystal clear perfection.” Written almost immediately after Krenek learned of Webern’s death, the work has its share of Webern-like elements but is also laced with a pained passion that reminds me of Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht. The string writing is lean and clear and the Leopoldinum Orchestra under the direction of Ernst Kovacic delivers a convincing performance. It’s surprising the work is not performed more often. The balance of the recording features works that are less substantial. The Adagio and Fugue is a string orchestra reworking of the final two movements of Krenek’s String Quartet No. 6. The ghost of Webern hovers over the excellent Adagio, but the Fugue is aimless and dull. The Five short pieces for strings, Op. 116 are top-notch with each neatly conceived movement making an emotional statement that is, in sum, more elegiac in tone than the Symphonic Elegy. The Berg-like Symphonic Pieces, Op. 86 is a real find and it surprises me that it hasn’t found a regular place in the string orchestra repertoire. The quirky Seven Easy Pieces, Op. 146 are challenging but never dull, while the driving rhythms of the Sinfonietta a Brasileira, Op. 131 fail to sustain interest. Krenek’s stark and spare string writing is perfectly served by the Leopoldinum Orchestra and this recording sheds some light on a composer who seems to have fallen out of favor of late, but deserves a closer look. By all means though, stay away from the incoherent and hideously edited liner notes which degrade this otherwise fine recording.
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