Notes and Editorial Reviews
6 Motets to Words by Franz Kafka. 5 Prayers. Cantata on the Transcience of Earthly Things.
3 Mixed A Cappella Choruses.
2 Choruses on Jacobean Poems.
Lamento della Ninfa
Hans-Christoph Rademann, cond;
Caroline Stein (sop);
Philip Mayers (pn); RIAS CCh
MC 902049 (74:09
Text and Translation)
I’ve been a big fan of Ernst Krenek’s chamber music and his operas, but I’ve never taken much to his—or anybody’s—
choral music. So why am I reviewing this disc? It may be that we have no one on staff who fancies both. Krenek was among the cleverest of composers; he could do anything he wanted, with any kind of material, in any form. Every piece I have encountered has proven worthy, even fascinating; yet he never impresses as a great composer—despite a magnificent set of string quartets. Perhaps his ideas were not quite first-rate; perhaps his ever-inquiring mind and constant experimentation interfered with his achievements.
He was a politically and socially sensitive person: Born in 1900, he grew up during the First World War and had to abandon his Viennese homeland for America during the Second. He was an admirer of Josquin, Ockeghem, and Monteverdi. And he studied Schoenberg’s 12-tone music, modifying it as he adapted it for his own use. These facets dominate the choral music on this disc. Most surprising is his amalgamation of the old and the new; many of these pieces successfully blend Renaissance polyphony with Schoenberg—one example of the Krenek magic.
Kafka’s “bald, brittle aphorisms” (from the notes by Roman Hinke) do not seem suitable for choral presentation. Krenek structures 12-tone music around them rather than attempting to penetrate their depths. With the text
Müssigang is aller Laster Anfang, aller Tugenden Krönung
(“idleness is the beginning of all vice, the crown of all virtues”), he builds a brief vocal fugue; how else to express such haiku-like irony?
(John Donne) for female voices again combines the two: “The linking factor is a 12-note cantus firmus on the Latin
.” Written in the dark days of 1944, they express Krenek’s “mortal distress” at the collapse of the European world he had left behind.
Cantata on the Transcience of Earthly Things
begins as an unaccompanied chorus, which is soon interrupted by the piano and solo voice; they alternate through a variety of Baroque poetry bewailing the futility of life. Written in 1932, it seems to predict the coming of the Nazis and world war. It also employs Krenek’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of musical techniques and references: dodecaphonic at one moment, music of the popular stage at another, plus much else in between. Monteverdi’s Ninfa laments a lover lost to another, more in sadness than in anger—although the text sums up “with indignant complaints.” A Krenek-supplied choral introduction and epilogue surround the soprano’s piano-accompanied lament, which is also subject to choral interjections.
The performances are subtle and beautifully gauged by the fine RIAS Chamber Choir, its title (Radio in the American Sector) indicative of its 60-plus years of experience. Stein has a smooth, lovely soprano, with which she nicely balances the requirements of Lieder and choral presentations. A dryish recording battles the reverberance of Berlin’s Jesus-Christus-Kirche, long a popular recording venue, with some success. Texts appear in the sung languages (German, Latin, Italian) plus side-by-side French and English translations.
FANFARE: James H. North
Works on This Recording
Choruses (3), Op. 22 by Ernst Krenek
Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus
Period: 20th Century
Prayers (5), Op. 97 by Ernst Krenek
Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus
Period: 20th Century
Sechs Motetten nach Worten von Franz Kafka, Op. 169: I. Der Weg
Sechs Motetten nach Worten von Franz Kafka, Op. 169: II. Taube auf dem Dach
Sechs Motetten nach Worten von Franz Kafka, Op. 169: III. Die Peitsche
Sechs Motetten nach Worten von Franz Kafka, Op. 169: IV. Der Wagen
Sechs Motetten nach Worten von Franz Kafka, Op. 169: V. Der Sündenfall
Sechs Motetten nach Worten von Franz Kafka, Op. 169: VI. Müßiggang
Five Prayers, Op. 97: Pater noster, qui es in caelis
Five Prayers, Op. 97: I. Pater noster
Five Prayers, Op. 97: II. From needing danger
Five Prayers, Op. 97: III. Through thy submitting all
Five Prayers, Op. 97: IV. Et dimitte nobis
Five Prayers, Op. 97: V. Et ne nos inducas
Five Prayers, Op. 97: Amen
Kantate von der Vergänglichkeit des Irdischen, Op. 72
Lamento della ninfa: I. Non havea Febo ancora
Lamento della ninfa: II. Amor dicea il ciel
Lamento della ninfa: III. Si tra sdegnosi pianti
Drei gemischte A-Cappella-Chöre, Op. 22: I. Der Mensch
Drei gemischte A-Cappella-Chöre, Op. 22: II. Tröstung
Drei gemischte A-Cappella-Chöre, Op. 22: III. Die Römer
Two Choruses on Jacobean Poems, Op. 87: I. This Life, which seems so fair
Two Choruses on Jacobean Poems, Op. 87: II. Even such is time
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