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Music Reviews : Tribute to Ernst Krenek at Barnsdall Park

January 05, 1988|CHRIS PASLES

Local neglect of composer Ernst Krenek continues apace, with even such well-intended efforts as the tribute to Krenek on the "Sundays at Seven" chamber music series at Barnsdall Park--broadcast live over KFAC-FM on Sunday--marred by irony and bungling.

For starters, this tribute to his 87th birthday came embarrassingly late, more than four months after his birth date of Aug. 23. Second, radio host Garrett Bowles, librarian for the Krenek Archives at UC San Diego, seemed to go his own way, wasting valuable air time trying to get the California Trio to play the four-note sequence that spells out Bach's name--used in one of the three works on the program--despite Krenek's objections and the trio's surprise at the request.

Earlier, the ever-affable, witty composer had declined Bowles' invitation to discuss 12-tone compositional techniques in detail. "That's a big order," he said with a laugh. "I'd need more than a minute a note." Altogether, the interview seemed more an impromptu session than an introduction designed to give Krenek a chance to say something meaningful about his music.

Fortunately, the musical portion of the program demonstrated respectable, hard-working, committed playing from violinist Kimiyo Takeya, violist Jan Karlin and cellist Erika Duke.

The trio played "Pavula corona musicalis" (1950)--in which the four-note Bach motif lies in the middle of the 12-note row--with strength and vitality, expertly negotiating the closely overlapping passages and bringing poignancy to barcarole-like rhythms and the hushed, deeply felt ending.

In the String Trio (1948), Takeya skillfully etched stratospheric lines while Karlin and Duke provided whisper-like, serene commentary dispelled by the abrupt ending. Duke also played the knotty Suite for Solo Cello (1939) with concentrated effort and expression.

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