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Ernst TOCH (1887 - 1964)
Capriccetti, Op 36 (1925) [6.59]
Kleinstadtbilder, Op 49 (1929) [11.57]
Sonata, Op 47 (1928) [8.05]
Burlesken, Op 31 (1923) [8.54]
Konzert-Edüden, Op 55 (1931) [22.34]
Christian Seibert, piano
Recorded WDR Funkhaus, Köln, Germany, 17 April 2003
Notes in Deutsch, English, Français. Photo of composer and performer.
CPO 999 926-2 [59.16]

 

Being familiar with Toch’s Symphonies (#3 won a Pulitzer Prize), film scores (Catherine the Great, Address Unknown), and a set of songs from "The Chinese Flute" (from which Mahler had taken the texts for "Das lied von der Erde"), I was naturally curious about his piano works, and found them somewhat surprising. His music generally features innovative sound-painting on an essentially conservative, tightly structured, foundation. He also wrote the famous (hilarious? notorious?) "Geographical Fugue" for chorus of rhythmic speakers, without pitch.

These piano works are all early works, to be sure. They are understated musically, almost impressionistic, but still feature unusual piano textures. Toch was a self-taught composer who later became a renowned teacher, so his music reminds one of Villa-Lobos, another self-taught composer. A reason for this may be that conservatory students learn how to write music-like sounds while they are waiting for inspiration, whereas self-taught composers have no recourse but their own inspiration and imagination. As a result, there is no "note-spinning" in these works, they are lean and concentrated. At times they sound a little like Schoenberg (yet they are never atonal) at other times like Debussy. They require a number of hearings to get to know them.

The sonata is in the usual three movements, but also all the other works are actually collections of miniatures, many of them less than a minute long, some with names like "The Juggler," "Phantom," "Young kitten," "with humour;" others bear straightforward descriptions of tempo or texture.

Never having seen the scores nor heard anyone but Seidler play this music, I can say only that he seems to appreciate the composer’s mood and match it carefully by not attempting to over-dramatise these works, or pump them up into something they’re not. His playing is very likely as Toch himself played: carefully, fluently and with no overstatement.

Paul Shoemaker


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