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CLASSICAL  March 2009

CLASSICAL March 2009

Subject:

Vocal Music by Krenek

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 18 Mar 2009 19:08:34 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (83 lines)

Ernst Krenek

*  What Price Confidence?
*  3 Sauter Songs
*  4 Songs
*  3 Songs.

Ilana Davidson (soprano)
Susan Narucki (soprano)
Richard Clement (tenor)
Christopheren Nomura (baritone)
Linda Hall (piano).
Phoenix Edition PE 130 Total Time: 75:35

Summary for the Busy Executive: Twelve-tone wit.

A composer's composer, Ernst Krenek employed several styles throughout
his rather long career.  He began as a post-Mahlerite and flitted in the
Twenties from idiom to idiom, including a brief period under the influence
of jazz and Les Six, which resulted in his biggest hit, the opera Jonny
spielt auf.  Eventually, he settled somewhere near the Schoenberg camp,
although he mellowed a bit in his old age.  I'm not all that fond of
Jonny and prefer in general his atonal stuff.

A chamber opera for four singers and piano, What Price Confidence? 
came about from a group of Metropolitan Opera singers who performed opera
arias with piano for audiences.  One of the singers asked Krenek for the
opera, but finally the group had to admit that the music lay beyond them.
The opera, composed in 1945, finally premiered in 1962.  Krenek composed
the opera specifically for the group and so used two sopranos, tenor,
bass, and piano.  The plot applies Melville's Confidence Man (Krenek
admitted the influence) to romantic farce.  Two couples -- Richard and
Vivian, Edwin and Gloria -- have marital problems.  Richard is cheating
with Vivian.  Edwin suspects, but Gloria tells him that he must have
"confidence" in her and in himself.  Richard, a genuine heel, nevertheless
feels guilty, especially since Vivian claims she has the confidence to
trust him -- in this case, confidence in herself.  By the end of the
opera, through a series of coincidences as old as Plautus, the couples
have regrouped.  Vivian and Edwin, the true lovers, are now together.

The little opera is dodecaphonic, so don't go looking for Puccini-like
tunes.  Krenek does, however, pull off the neat trick of lightness and
fun within an idiom noted for gloom and Angst.  I should add that the
superb performance helps.  All four singers not only get the notes, but
also sharply limn their characters.  One notes the flightiness selfishness
of Gloria, the bluster and inner insecurity of Richard, the calm strength
of Vivian, and the tendency to brood of Edwin.

The opera is the highpoint of the disc.  I complain about most of the
rest, in no small measure due to the truly horrible accompanying booklet.
This is a CD of songs, essentially, and songs have texts, none of which
-- except that of the opera -- is given here.  The singers' diction is
good, but not good enough to do without some printed help.  Also, there's
nothing on any of the songs (most of which are in German) and damn little
on Krenek.  Instead, we get inflated biographies of the performers.  This
strikes me as an indulgent misuse of limited resources, like the Merrill
Lynch Master of the Universe who redecorated his office with 1.2 million
bucks of taxpayer money.

Consequently, very few of the songs made much impression on me.  I would
have loved to have known at least what the composer wanted to express.
I did like the 3 Songs on Goethe poems (I think from 1928).  The idiom
was tonal but unpredictable.  I especially liked the variety of textures
in each song (and in the opera, for that matter).  The 4 Songs on texts
by Goethe, possibly from 1927, are atonal, but I liked especially "On a
piece of music," which pits the main theme from Bach's Musical Offering
against a craggy vocal line.

The performers do a terrific job, singing and playing not atonal music,
but music.  They sing the opera as they would sing Zauberfloete, with
vim and elan.  Standards have risen as dodecaphonic music have become
more familiar to performers.  However, I'm actually mad at the producer
or at the nebbishes who designed the booklet.  Krenek is hardly a household
name or a popular taste.  They had the opportunity to seriously champion
his music and blew it.

Steve Schwartz

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