Ernst Krenek

Sechs Motetten nach Worten von Franz Kafka; Choral Works

RIAS Kammerchor; Hans-Christopher Rademann

Harmonia Mundi CD 902049

Ernst Krenek’s Lamentations of Jeremiah is a work that I admire a great deal. A pivotal 12-tone composition, it proved greatly influential to a number of American composers and, reputedly, Igor Stravinsky. Indeed, Krenek is one of the first to discuss the use of a rotation as a serial permutation; a technique that would prove valuable to Stravinsky during his own late spate of 12-tone works.

The recording  of Krenek’s Lamentations by RIAS Kammerchor (also on HM) was widely acclaimed as a near-flawless rendition of this famously challenging, dissonantly thorny a cappella work. Sechs Motetten is a worthy follow-up to the previous disc. It includes a wide range of Krenek’s shorter choral pieces, ranging in date of composition from 1923 to 1959. There is a disjunct, angular quality to the Kafka settings that seems to resonate well with the author’s legendarily terse and often tart prose. The RIAS singers perform with superlative control; one is particularly taken with the nuanced renderings of detailed dynamic shifts and articulations. Both sopranos and tenors negotiate an often high-lying tessitura with nary a flinch.

The CD also includes an arrangement of Baroque composer Claudio Monteverdi’s Lamento della Ninfa; it isn’t realized with a particularly informed sense of period practice, but retains Monteverdi’s nimble rhythms and canny word inflections. Also winning is the Op. 132 Kantate von der Vergänglichkeit des Irdischen. It pits twelve-tone writing against free harmonic progressions, both post-tonal and pantonal, as well as effects: frequent glissandi and passages of sprechstimme. Caroline Stein performs the virtuosic soprano solo with dazzling runs and warm tone; pianist Philip Mayers is equally impressive in his own limpid filigrees. Five Prayers (Op. 97) demonstrates Krenek’s talent for finely knit contrapuntal writing. A bit less forbidding in harmonic language, the Prayers demonstrate a sumptuousness that is almost startling when heard in such close proximity to the Kafka Motetten. Thus, the disc provides an overall impression of the composer as he should rightly be remembered: as an adroit creator in a wide range of compositional styles.

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