KRENEK: What Price Confidence. 3 Sauter Songs. 4 Songs. 3 Songs.
Ilana Davidson (soprano); Susan Narucki (soprano); Richard Clement (tenor);
Christopheren Nomura (baritone); Linda Hall (piano).
Phoenix Edition PE 130 (F) (DDD) TT: 75:35
BUY NOW FROM AMAZON
Twelve-tone wit. A composer's composer, Ernst Krenek employed several
styles throughout his rather long career. He began as a post-Mahlerite
in the Twenties from idiom to idiom, including a brief period under the
influence of jazz and Les Six, which resulted in his biggest hit, the
opera Jonny spielt auf. Eventually, he settled somewhere near the Schoenberg
camp, although he mellowed a bit in his old age. I'm not all that fond
of Jonny and prefer in general his atonal stuff.
A chamber opera for four singers and piano, What Price Confidence? came
about from a group of Metropolitan Opera singers who performed opera
arias with piano for audiences. One of the singers asked Krenek for the
but finally the group had to admit that the music lay beyond them. The
opera, composed in 1945, finally premiered in 1962. Krenek composed the
opera specifically for the group and so used two sopranos, tenor, bass,
and piano. The plot applies Melville's Confidence Man (Krenek admitted
the influence) to romantic farce. Two couples -- Richard and Vivian,
Edwin and Gloria -- have marital problems. Richard is cheating with Vivian.
suspects, but Gloria tells him that he must have "confidence" in
her and in himself. Richard, a genuine heel, nevertheless feels guilty,
especially since Vivian claims she has the confidence to trust him -- in
this case, confidence in herself. By the end of the opera, through a series
of coincidences as old as Plautus, the couples have regrouped. Vivian and
Edwin, the true lovers, are now together.
The little opera is dodecaphonic, so don't go looking for Puccini-like
tunes. Krenek does, however, pull off the neat trick of lightness and
fun within an idiom noted for gloom and Angst. I should add
that the superb
performance helps. All four singers not only get the notes, but also
sharply limn their characters. One notes the flightiness and selfishness
the bluster and inner insecurity of Richard, the calm strength of Vivian,
and the tendency to brood of Edwin.
The opera is the highpoint of the disc. I complain about most of the
rest, in no small measure due to the truly horrible accompanying booklet.
is a CD of songs, essentially, and songs have texts, none of which --
except that of the opera -- is given here. The singers' diction is good,
good enough to do without some printed help. Also, there's nothing on
any of the songs (most of which are in German) and damn little on Krenek.
we get inflated biographies of the performers. This strikes me as an
indulgent misuse of limited resources, like the Merrill Lynch Master
of the Universe
who redecorated his office with 1.2 million bucks of taxpayer money.
Consequently, very few of the songs made much impression on me. I would
have loved to have known at least what the composer wanted to express.
I did like the 3 Songs on Goethe poems (I think from 1928). The idiom
was tonal but unpredictable. I especially liked the variety of textures
each song (and in the opera, for that matter). The 4 Songs on texts by
Goethe, possibly from 1927, are atonal, but I liked especially "On
a piece of music," which pits the main theme from Bach's Musical
Offering against a craggy vocal line.
The performers do a terrific job, singing and playing not atonal music,
but music. They sing the opera as they would sing Zauberflöte, with
vim and élan. Standards have risen as dodecaphonic music have become
more familiar to performers. However, I'm actually mad at the producer
or at the nebbishes who designed the booklet. Krenek is hardly a household
name or a popular taste. They had the opportunity to seriously champion
his music and blew it.
S.G.S. (February 2009)