Krenek: Piano Concertos – No 1 in F sharp major, Op 18; No 2, Op 81; No 3, Op 107

Reviewed on Tue 10 May, 2016

Mikhail Korzhev proves a superbly stylish, fearless and eloquent exponent, and he enjoys admirable support from a hugely spirited English Symphony Orchestra under Kenneth Woods's unfailingly cogent lead.

Vienna-born Ernst Krenek (1900-1991) wrote the First of his four piano concertos in 1923. Playing for half an hour and cast in four linked movements, it's such a riotously inventive, playful and communicative piece that one is amazed that it should have had to wait until now for its debut on disc. By the time Krenek completed his altogether grittier, but scarcely less absorbing and deeply-felt Second Concerto in 1937, the landscape – both musical and political – had altered drastically. Two years later, Krenek (reviled by the Nazis for his 'degenerate' music and Jewish heritage) fled Europe for a new life in the USA. Appointed Head of the Music Department at Hamline University in St Paul, Minnesota, Krenek was soon befriended by the conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony, Dmitri Mitropoulos, and it was he who gave the prestigious November 1946 premiere (directing from the keyboard in his very first concert as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic) of Krenek's Third Concerto. It, too, repays close study and packs a wealth of incident, discipline, intrigue and emotional variety into just 13 minutes. Performances are first-rate: Mikhail Korzhev proves a superbly stylish, fearless and eloquent exponent, and he enjoys admirable support from a hugely spirited English Symphony Orchestra under Kenneth Woods's unfailingly cogent lead. Both the production and presentation likewise leave nothing to be desired. Do lend an ear to this brave and rewarding issue.
–Andrew Achenbach