Krenek: Early Piano Works / Korzhev

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Ernst Krenek’s early musical development was informed by the middle-class cultural ambient of the city of Vienna. Already at an early age he heard his...

Ernst Krenek’s early musical development was informed by the middle-class cultural ambient of the city of Vienna. Already at an early age he heard his mother playing “salon pieces” on the piano; they attended musical theater performances and the Sunday matinees conducted by Alexander Zemlinsky in the nearby Volksoper. The popular repertoire of operettas, military bands, and cabaret also had a fixed place in the life of the Kreneks.

Ernst Krenek learned a wide spectrum of musical literature from his piano teacher. Together they played four-hand arrangements of operas and symphonies. The works of Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss had a great influence on him, especially the latter, since at that time he was – as the ‘leader of the most radical modernism’ (Krenek, Memoirs) – on the path to world fame. In spite of their merely playful, childish aspirations, his own early attempts at composition can be associated to his biographical world. In terms of style, they are clearly obliged to the musical language of Viennese classicism and romanticism. The titles of these sometimes only partially realized compositions prove to be an interesting mirror of the social reality of the not yet ten-year-old: biblical and sacred motifs dominate alongside references to historical events, above all from the military history of the Habsburg Monarchy. These ambitious works were complemented by smaller marches and waltzes for piano. In his early and mid-teens, a clear development toward vocal settings of German poetry is evident, be it as art songs or choral works. Occasional instrumental works, such as variation works for piano trio, a sonata for cello and piano, or a stage work, are early testimony of the diversity in Krenek’s future oeuvre.


Collectors who’ve resisted the thorny atonality of Ernst Krenek’s mature piano music will find his earlier works for the instrument, well, tonal and not all that thorny! Think of Max Reger’s short piano pieces or Korngold’s keyboard output, and you’ve basically got the young Krenek.

Listen to the First sonata’s zestful and harmonically restless Rondo finale, for example. I would have mistaken it for an idiomatic piano transcription of one of Richard Strauss’ late-period wind ensemble pieces. The Sonatina No. 2 Gavotte’s modulatory wanderlust makes the Gavotte from Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony sound minimalist by comparison. In the single-movement Sonatina No. 5 and the Six Piano Pieces, Krenek begins to branch out into the terse expressive qualities, angular phrasings, and tonal ambiguity characterizing his later sonatas.

Mikhail Korzhev makes a cogent and convincing case for this repertoire, which comes as no surprise, given his dazzling and authoritative recordings of Krenek’s first three piano concertos. The pianist’s incisive fingerwork vivifies sequences in obsessive dotted rhythms, such as in the Sonatina No. 1’s Vivace finale and the Sonatina No. 3’s Scherzettino, while giving ample attention to bass lines. Korzhev plays up the Sonatina No. 2’s central Theme and Variations sudden mood shifts in a way that never makes them sound episodic or fragmented. He clearly understands and believes in the music, which makes this release an ever more valuable addition to the Krenek discography.

-- (Jed Dislter)

Product Description:

  • Release Date: February 03, 2023

  • UPC: 044747396828

  • Catalog Number: CRC3968

  • Label: Centaur Records

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: 20th Century

  • Composer: Ernst Krenek

  • Performer: Mikhail Korzhev