Playing of this
perfection at under € 10 is an absolute gift. The sheer warmth
with which Allison Brewster Franzetti suffuses this unusual
combination of works makes this my Recording of the Month.
These tough German/Austrian
works require maturity above mere technical virtuosity and Ms
Franzetti has the lot. She even supplies notes of a profoundly
informative nature describing Austria-Germany from the time
of the Schoenberg pre-atonal period, through the Weimar Republic
through to the Nazi slaughter reflected in the Hartmann. Naxos
did well to get hold of a brilliant pianist with the mind of
a musicologist matched with a knowledge of history; some soloists
are a bit dim. What we have here is sheer authority with consequent
Readers of my MWI
reviews know that I usually have a little whinge and the only
one here is that the Berg sonata Op.1 seems to have been recorded
more distantly than the other works. To purist ears there’s
a moderately annoying reverb and a slight waste of the Blüthner
sound in passages of attack.
Berg is sometimes
seen as the least strict of the so-called ‘2nd Viennese
School’. Critics of many years seemed to expect growling and
dissonance as some sort of badge of twelve tone distinction.
Berg certainly produced that in the ‘Three Pieces for Orchestra’
Op.6 (1914-15) and in some passages from ‘Wozzeck’ (1921) but
Berg’s agenda was always and only musical.
The Op. 1 sonata
in this version looks back to an extent and the sleeve-notes
by M and V Ledin mention this. Ms Franzetti offers suggestions
of what Berg would perfect in the ‘Lyric Suite’ of 1926. It
really is amazing.
The Schoenberg Three
Piano Pieces (1894) do not count as a sonata in actual form.
Such an early work hints very heavily at how the composer’s
private music was urgently moving away from the late-Romantic
style. There is a difference between what places food on the
table and what a genius really intends; we get it here in a
forensic way and played with considerable grace.
I disagree with
the notes by the Ledins who mention Wagner, Dvořák and
Brahms when it is clear to me that Schoenberg’s anchor was Beethoven.
I invite comments from MWI readers. There is a sense here in
which Schoenberg was ‘clearing the decks’ to get ready for his
Sonata No. 2 (1936) is the gem of this remarkable issue. Its
muscular but very subtle content is deployed with great economy
across in three movements with an almost Mozartian touch but
mixed with a certain toughness.
of Paul Hindemith is possibly coloured by Sir William Walton’s
pieces which suited the ‘tough guy’ of English music from the
1930s onwards but Hindemith’s block chords are far from the
whole story. Most MWI readers will know that Hindemith was a
viola player who started his career as and ensemble musician
with composing as his private work.
What is perhaps
less well known is that Hindemith wrote music of immense tenderness
for voices and this is a pity because his ‘Die Serenaden’ is
blissful and the cantata ‘When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d’
based on Whitman is a major work by any standard.
sonata ’27 April 1945’ has a Whitman link too according to the
notes which alas omit the date of the first performance. My
latter ‘complaint’ might be irrelevant because Hartmann wrote
two alternative finales and both are presented in this
stunning recording. It therefore makes sense to listen to the
whole work with separate last movements to be fair to Hartmann’s
sonata form and intentions in having alternatives.
Karl Amadeus Hartmann
has often been seen as being less interesting than Blacher,
Dessau and Henze as a post-war foolish exercise in classifying
but Hartmann was of an earlier time and a traditionalist. I
should explain; during World War 2 Hartmann composed in secret
and his extensive oeuvre only came to world attention after
the war, thus he was compared with younger composers who were
experimenting. Hartmann’s traditionalism is, I suggest, a mark
of integrity of his time but also under the jackboot.
The title of the
sonata derives from a quotation left by Dachau prisoners in
late April 1945 when the Nazis were in retreat but still exterminated
victims in some habitual, tired and insane lack of humanity.
It was just killing in a haze and Hartmann’s sonata reflects
Thus the intensity
of the sonata might be too much for some but listening to a few
Hartmann symphonies either side of Nazi atrocities will show his
musical language – too little appreciated.
Franzetti is ideal
in her considered and restrained presentation of a great work
to stand alongside the more famous company. A brilliant musician
with academic knowledge as well as sensitivity is rare.