Ernst Krenek died at 91 in 1991 and over the last decade he has deservedly come into his own on CD. In 1993 I welcomed the first modern recording of his Reisebuch aus den osterreichischen Alpen (“Travelbook from the Austrian Alps”) and already there is another. This time Krenek’s next song-cycle, Fiedellieder (“Fiddlesongs”), is included. Although Kohler and Schmiedel on CPO were reliable enough, their recording was not as well balanced as the new one and, without the extra cycle, it presents no competition. Further, the Philips production is unusually imaginative. The CD is packaged to look like a photograph album and inside there are coloured picture-postcards of alpine views on a backing of yellow paper designed to look slightly worn – a neat nostalgic touch. Krenek himself made an English version of his own Reisebuch texts but that is not what is provided here in the four-language CD booklet.
The retrospective flavour of both cycles is thoroughly appropriate since they look back to Krenek’s travels in the mountains after the sensational hit of his so-called jazz opera, Jonny spielt auf, in 1927. Six years later it was attacked by the Nazis as an example of degeneracy in art and in 1938 Krenek emigrated to America, where he settled in California. The song-cycles were composed in a kind of neo-classical period before the composer moved on into his own version of 12-tone technique. Stravinsky has been allowed his stylistic shifts: those of Krenek are also revealing and with more recordings and better performances they fall into place.
Krenek’s Reisebuch may not have the agonizing context of its ancestor, Winterreise, but the composer finds instability in nature and never feels that he belongs anywhere. The first song opens in musical terms that Schubert and Mahler would have understood. The eighth, “Unser Wein”, with its Viennese rhythms, is in memory of Schubert, but the churchyard scene (the sixth song) is more dissonant. In the 11th song Krenek loses patience with tourists and he responds more stridently to the threatening subject of politics in the 12th.
Holzmair – a distinguished voice in opera and Lieder – is a reliable guide to these changing landscapes, as he is in the succeeding cycle set to poems by Mommsen and Storm. The singer and his pianist, Gerard Wyss, are well recorded and their polished performances raise the profile of Krenek’s contribution to Lieder.'