Richard Clement / Ilana Davidson / Susan Narucki / Christòpheren Nomura

Ernst Krenek: What Price Confidence

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The pivotal works of Ernst Krenek's early career were large-scale operas -- the jazz-inspired zeitoper Jonny spielt auf (1927) and the austerely serial Karl V (1931-1933) -- and he continued to work with the form throughout his career. For his 40-minute chamber opera, What Price Confidence (1945), for four singers and piano, Krenek devised his own libretto in English, a romantic, if somewhat intellectualized, comedy that Rossini or Donizetti might have turned into a full evening piece. Its compactness, though, and its talkiness make it come across as more intriguing and conceptually clever than emotionally or dramatically engaging. Krenek's vocal writing is essentially lyrical, but its atonality, and the spikiness of the piano accompaniment make its interest primarily cerebral. It's hard to argue with the specifics of Krenek's text-setting, which is unfailingly elegant, but since it rarely moves beyond a heightened recitative, the cumulative effect feels randomly angular rather than melodically inspired. Singers Ilana Davidson, Susan Narucki, Richard Clement, and Christopher Nomura do their best to invest the material with dramatic feeling. They are more successful in the three sets of songs that fill out the CD; here, Krenek gives his lyrical impulse freer rein, and the songs are effectively expressive. Linda Hall plays the critical piano part (which frequently has more musical interest than the vocal lines) with punchy energy.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Vertrauenssache (What Price confidence), chamber opera for 4 voices & piano, Op. 111
1
4:35
2
4:16
3
2:22
4
2:26
5
2:52
6
8:58
7
2:13
8
2:18
9
9:24
Sauter Lieder (3)
10
2:41
11
1:55
12
5:18
Gesänge (4)
13
2:29
14
3:47
15
3:55
16
4:00
Gesänge (3)
17
4:15
18
4:14
19
3:28
blue highlight denotes track pick