Egon Kornauth CD, reviews

A couple of reviews of my recording of Egon Kornauth’s music have come to my attention:

‘There is only one other piece by Egon Kornauth (1891-1959) listed on ArkivMusic, another performance by the present pianist, recorded at Schloss Husum in 2009 and reviewed previously in Fanfare 34:5 by Scott Noriega. This is the first full disc of piano music by Kornauth, a composer born in what is now Olomouc in the Czech Republic (and was then Olmütz) who studied with Robert Fuchs in Vienna and then later with Schreker and Franz Schmidt. 

Jonathan Powell is one of the most eloquent commentators on the music he plays I have come across, whether that be Sorabji or Kornauth, and his booklet note is a source of great interest. The angular, active Fantasy (1915) contains distinctly Richard Straussian turns of harmony and phrase in the sweet contrasting themes (that influence is less obvious in the more Schwung sections); the overt lush Straussian gestures sound more like a reduction of an orchestral tone poem. The op. 25 Klavierstücke (1920) are more modernist, probably because of his experiences of Schreker. The first is decidedly Bergian (think the op. 1 Piano Sonata), while the central Improvisation sounds exactly like that. Most fascinating is the final “Walzer,” a very sprightly evocation of Viennese dance, a bit like an Austro-Germanic Ravel La Valse in places. 

The Kleine Suite (1923) has fewer ambitions than the other works on the disc and receives another fantastic performance from Powell. The Barcarolle (third movement) sums the suite up in essence, reflecting the less demanding demeanor of the piece, while the penultimate “Walzer” elicits a phenomenally light touch from Powell before the cheekily scampering Finale rounds things off with a smile. 

The Präludium und Passacaglia offers maximal contrast, the B?-Minor twilight of Bachian rigor and severity of the Prelude meeting the storm clouds of Chopin’s finest turbulence; the Passacaglia continues the gloominess. Powell paces it superbly: The close is truly crushing before the final surprise major-key end. The op. 44Klavierstücke of 1940 is also sometimes known as the Second Suite. It is shot through with sweet nostalgia. The five pieces (“Präludium”; “Intermezzo”; “Capriccio”; “Mährische Ballade”; “Walzer”) speak of sweet nostalgia. Powell lavishes them with an attention to detail that almost makes them sparkle (in a retrospective sort of way). The “Mährische Ballade” (Moravian Ballad) is the highlight. Its almost folkish mode of discourse hides a strong compositional rudder steering the work perfectly; the final “Walzer” is the suite’s longest movement, and drips with charm. 

This is a fascinating disc (as we are beginning to expect from Toccata Classics). The recording (made at Durham University, U.K.) is excellent.’ 
FANFARE: Colin Clarke 

‘Though he was for some years the toast of Vienna, Egon Kornauth was, like many an outstanding citizen of the Dual Monarchy, a Moravian. Born in Olomouc in 1891 he studied in that city before travelling to the Imperial capital to pursue composition first with Robert Fuchs and later with Schreker. He also studied musicology with Guido Adler. But it was only when he studied privately with Franz Schmidt that he seems to have found a teacher whom he felt truly sympathetic. Kornauth gradually rose to a position of some eminence in Vienna, where he lived until his death in 1959. 
His piano music, of which this is the first volume (and all of which is heard in first recordings) proves highly diverting listening. The Phantasie of 1915 – the recital runs chronologically – is tightly constructed, indeed almost sonata-like. Opening restlessly it soon relaxes into a ‘second subject’ redolent of Richard Strauss at his most opulently operatic; all this allied to piano writing of post-Lisztian panache and turbulence. The other influence here is surely more Schmidt than Schreker, and though there is intensity, nowhere is Zemlinsky evoked. The Three Piano Pieces, Op.23 followed in 1920. The first is rather funereal, whilst the central piece, an ‘Improvisation’, is flowing and fluid, harmonically piquant without ever being quite à la mode. The waltz with which this little set ends shifts its moorings from time to time, rhythmically speaking, so one can’t always tell its origin. 
A few years later Kornauth wrote his Little Suite, Op.29. The seven movements are very brief but well characterised. Whilst there are Mahlerian suggestions, pianist Jonathan Powell notes in the booklet that Kornauth may have imbibed some of the more Mediterranean spirit of Joseph Marx at this time in his development. Certainly the free-spirited, amply chorded fulsomeness of much of this suite is engaging. There’s light-heartedness too. That quality is necessarily in shorter supply in the Praeludium and Passacagliawritten many years later, in 1939. Here the fascinating feature resides in the commingling of Bachian and Chopinesque elements in the Praeludium’s ceaseless harmonic quest. The Passacaglia has its lighter textures but insidious pessimism haunts many of its paragraphs, before the work ends with a declamatory fanfare. Hopeful, ascending lines proclaim a promise for the future. 
The following year Kornauth composed his Five Piano Pieces, Op.44. Brief though they are, they cover some interesting ground, from loquacious polyphony to fulsome diatonic writing in tribute to his native soil – a Moravian ballad, though characteristically he ploughs his own furrow and shows no sign of having heard Novák, who went foraging for folk songs in Kornauth’s neck of the woods, or indeed the Bohemian Suk. 
All these pieces are brought thoughtfully and stylishly to life by Powell in performances given in the slightly chilly acoustic of Durham University Music School back in August 2008. They augur well for the next volume.’ 


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