Collectors who’ve resisted the thorny atonality of Ernst Krenek’s mature piano music will find his earlier works for the instrument, well, tonal and not all that thorny! Think of Max Reger’s short piano pieces or Korngold’s keyboard output, and you’ve basically got the young Krenek.
Listen to the First sonata’s zestful and harmonically restless Rondo finale, for example. I would have mistaken it for an idiomatic piano transcription of one of Richard Strauss’ late-period wind ensemble pieces. The Sonatina No. 2 Gavotte’s modulatory wanderlust makes the Gavotte from Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony sound minimalist by comparison. In the single-movement Sonatina No. 5 and the Six Piano Pieces, Krenek begins to branch out into the terse expressive qualities, angular phrasings, and tonal ambiguity characterizing his later sonatas.
Mikhail Korzhev makes a cogent and convincing case for this repertoire, which comes as no surprise, given his dazzling and authoritative recordings of Krenek’s first three piano concertos. The pianist’s incisive fingerwork vivifies sequences in obsessive dotted rhythms, such as in the Sonatina No. 1’s Vivace finale and the Sonatina No. 3’s Scherzettino, while giving ample attention to bass lines. Korzhev plays up the Sonatina No. 2’s central Theme and Variations sudden mood shifts in a way that never makes them sound episodic or fragmented. He clearly understands and believes in the music, which makes this release an ever more valuable addition to the Krenek discography.