Egon Kornauth’s Piano Music

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 6

Toccata Classics claims this to be the first recording devoted to piano music by the Czech-born Viennese composer Egon Kornauth (1891-1959). Judging from most of the works here, we haven’t missed much. By and large, his keyboard style is compulsively chromatic, texturally padded, melodically unmemorable, and sounds vaguely like Korngold–or, more accurately, like vague Korngold.

As an example of how Kornauth tends to wreck good ideas, go to the Intermezzo of the Fünf Klavierstücke Op. 44 from 1940. It opens with a descending unaccompanied line that promises to lead to an interesting destination. Yet once the accompaniment kicks in, the theme immediately loses its point and distinction, as the padding takes over and the composing goes on autopilot. The Waltz from the Kleine Suite also typifies how a strong Kornauth motive dissipates due to relentless modulations that distract more than they divert. The large-scale Phantasie Op. 10 resembles the Alban Berg Sonata’s clear forms and sharply contoured lines after they’ve been inflated with hot air and then exploded onto manuscript paper.

To be fair, Kornauth comes into focus when he straightjackets himself. Take the 1939 Präludium und Passacaglia Op. 43. The Prelude opens with a somber arpeggiated gesture in the lowest register that slowly unfolds as it ascends up the keyboard. A bass pedal-point reinforces the first climax, from which impassioned and fluid counterpoint flow into a full-bodied, unabashedly sentimental section that would do any late-1930s Hollywood film score proud. Similarly, the following Passacaglia’s formal parameters help anchor the music’s Franck-meets-Fauré-meets-Pfitzner-meets-Siegfried Wagner-meets-Medtner-edited by-Korngold twists and turns.

The range of color and dynamics we usually hear in Jonathan Powell’s extremely accomplished pianism is somewhat thwarted by drab, distant, and constricted sonics, but you can tell that he believes in this music one hundred percent. Powell’s well-researched and superbly written annotations add value to a release that is bound to appeal more to specialists than to general collectors.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

    Phantasie Op. 10; Drei Klavierstücke Op. 23; Kleine Suite Op. 29;
    Präludium und Passacaglia Op. 43; Fünf Klavierstücke Op. 44
  • Jonathan Powell (piano)

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