Rob Pennock
September 2016

Ernst Krenek (1900-1991) was an Austrian composer whose output encompassed everything from Austro/German romanticism to electronic music and who scored a huge international hit in 1927 with his opera Jonny spielt auf, which featured an eclectic mix of musical styles. From two years later we have his centennial travelogue homage to Schubert (who died in 1828) a comment on—amongst other things—German nationalism, mechanisation and nostalgia, Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen, for which Krenek also wrote the words. Given that he had enthusiastically embraced twelve-note serialism you might expect something that would have been considered avant-garde at the time, but what you actually get is, like Jonny, an unusual combination of styles, from Schubert through to Schoenberg, jazz and German cabaret song. Most are of Schumann or Wolf-like brevity, but encompass a wide emotional range, there are plenty of examples of Krenek alluding to composers other than Schubert, absolutely nothing to frighten the horses and the overall effect is marvellously, quixotically entertaining. As a bonus we have four luscious examples of late-romanticism from the seriously under-rated Alexander Zemlinsky (1871-1942).

The sound is up to the usual Hyperion standard in that the overall balance is nicely middle-distance, there is plenty of space around the performers without any suggestion of excessive reverberation (using a small hall or studio, as opposed to a church, always helps this crucial aspect of sound reproduction) and the artists have exceptional presence; they are there in front of you. There is a realistic sense of space between the two and while the piano sounds a little muted, the internal balance is as near to natural as seems possible with virtually any singer/piano combination and all of the registers are given equal weight.

Sometimes the dynamic range on Hyperion recordings can be a little constricted, but here everything from ppp to fff is well-reproduced, although DXD and DSD256 files appear to have even greater extension. Clarity and definition are exceptional, so one registers every facet of Vignole’s mastery of pedal control and touch, while Boesch’s beautifully focused baritone sounds just that, as opposed to some woolly or dried-out approximation.

As ever the programme notes (by Gavin Plumley) are highly readable and informative and the download facility the best in the world. Having been one of the first studios to offer high-defintion downloads Hyperion should perhaps look at what some of the other independents are now doing and also offer DXD and DSD256. It would be great to hear this recital in DSD256 native.