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Krenek: Motets After Kafka, Choral Works / Stein, Rademann

Krenek / Stein / Mayers / Riao / Rademann
Release Date: 03/09/2010 
Label:  Harmonia Mundi   Catalog #: 902049  
Composer:  Ernst Krenek
Performer:  Caroline SteinPhilip Mayers
Conductor:  Hans-Christoph Rademann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



KRENEK 6 Motets to Words by Franz Kafka. 5 Prayers. Cantata on the Transcience of Earthly Things. 1 3 Mixed A Cappella Choruses. 2 Choruses on Jacobean Poems. MONTEVERDI/KRENEK Lamento della Ninfa 1 Hans-Christoph Rademann, cond; 1 Caroline Stein (sop); 1 Philip Mayers (pn); RIAS CCh Read more class="BULLET12b">• 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— a cappella 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? Five Prayers (John Donne) for female voices again combines the two: “The linking factor is a 12-note cantus firmus on the Latin Pater noster .” Written in the dark days of 1944, they express Krenek’s “mortal distress” at the collapse of the European world he had left behind.


The 19-minute 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
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Works on This Recording

1.
Motets (6) after texts by Franz Kafka, Op. 169 by Ernst Krenek
Conductor:  Hans-Christoph Rademann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1959 
2.
Kantate von der Vergänglichkeit des Irdischen, Op. 72 by Ernst Krenek
Performer:  Caroline Stein (Soprano), Philip Mayers (Piano)
Conductor:  Hans-Christoph Rademann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1932 
3.
Choruses (3), Op. 22 by Ernst Krenek
Conductor:  Hans-Christoph Rademann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1923 
4.
Choruses (2) on Jacobean Poems, Op. 87 by Ernst Krenek
Conductor:  Hans-Christoph Rademann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939 
5.
Prayers (5), Op. 97 by Ernst Krenek
Conductor:  Hans-Christoph Rademann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944 

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