Geoffrey Douglas Madge

Ernst Krenek: Piano Sonatas

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The opening of Ernst Krenek's Sonata for piano No. 7, Op. 240, from 1988 is simply breathtaking. The tenderly lyrical melody at the very top of the keyboard answered by a growling countermelody at the very bottom of the keyboard is one of the most beautiful openings in contemporary piano music. That it was written when Krenek was 88 makes it even more amazing. The final glissando played on the strings with the hand is as evocative and haunting a closing gesture as the best in all music. And pianist Geoffrey Douglas Madge plays it as well as one can ever imagine it being played, with compassionate and transcendent virtuosity.

Madge does as well with Krenek's three movement Sonata for piano, No. 2, Op. 59, but the work repels anything except admiration for its ironic wit and caustic counterpoint. That Krenek was a genius is indisputable. That his humor was still humorous is debatable. But for those who chuckle at the pratfalls of Wozzeck, Madge plays Krenek's almost contemporaneous Second with complete conviction and the work will be a cornucopia of quotations, a modernist grandson of P.D.Q. Bach.

Madge seems at home in the chilly austerity and dissonant intensity of Krenek's four-movement Sonata No. 4, Op. 114, from 1948 and his five-movement Sonata No. 6, Op. 128, from 1951. Whether anyone but ironic modernists will enjoy it is anyone's guess. If for no other reason than to hear Madge's Seventh, one should listen to this disc. Koch Schwann's late-'80s digital sound is a bit close and a little hard.

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