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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Ernst TOCH (1887-1964)
Cello Sonata (1929)
Concerto for Cello and Chamber Orchestra (1924-5)
Impromptufor cello solo in three movements (1963)

Steven Honigberg (cello)
Eclipse Chamber Orchestra/Sylvia Alimena
Kathryn Brake (piano)
rec 6 June 1999 US Holocaust Museum (concerto); 13 May 2000, St Luke's Church, McLean, Virginia
ALBANY TROY 421 [53.35]

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Toch, having laboriously and brilliantly made a name for himself in Vienna, felt the fascist flames licking his heels and left for the USA in 1933. There he settled making a living writing Hollywood scores and teaching. In 1948 the debilitating effect of overwork culminated in a heart attack and a resolve to concentrate on composition. His seven symphonies date exclusively from his American years. All are being recorded by CPO.

Of the works recorded here, with such mesmerising concentration and application, two are from the Austrian and German years and the solo cello work is from the year before his death. The Sonata (written for Emanuel Feuermann who gave more than twenty performances of the Toch Cello Concerto) is eldritch. Its central Intermezzo 'Die Spinne' is framed by two allegros of wandering tonality. These cut and grind in a way predictive of Shostakovich's more lively writing for piano solo fused with Bachian patterning.

The orchestra in the Concerto comprises only eleven instruments including a range of sparingly but tellingly used percussion. Textures remain open even though quite closely recorded. Its tonal centre is even more inclined to quixotic errantry than the sonata and must have been received at the time with palatable dismay in some circles. It is a work of gutsy virtuosity and spidery interplay - Stravinskian bustle, the rhapsodic peppery weave of Schoenberg's late quartets, Weill's mordant sarcasm, Prokofiev's scornful macabre and jaunty heroism - always full of movement. This is all most aptly and engagingly done by ensemble and soloist. Ideal 'gramophone' listening.

Wind forward a full thirty-five years and Steve Honigberg guides us alone through the Bachian, Hebraic, sentimental and florid pages of the ten minute Impromptu (somehow a contradiction in terms to have an Impromptu in three movements - it implies too calculated an approach). Of the three works this one tells on our emotional receptors most immediately. It was written for Gregor Piatigorsky on his 60th birthday so we can see the circles in which Toch was moving - I wonder if he wrote anything for Heifetz.

An anthology of music both caustic and emotional. The works of the 1920s break close to the bow-wave of the time.

Typically engaged and fervent performing values, excellent recordings homogeneous across the two halls and distinctly supportive notes. Admirably, it is not unusual for Steve Honigberg's CDs to have email addresses and weblinks and so it is here.

A welcome production.

Rob Barnett



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