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Ernst TOCH (1887-1964)
Violin Sonata No.2 Op.44 (1928) [13:16]
Burlesken for Piano Op.31 (1923) [9:28]
Three Impromptus for Cello Op.90c (1963) [9:11]
Quintet for piano, two violins, viola and cello Op.64 (1938) [37:02]
Spectrum Concerts Berlin (Daniel Blumenthal (piano); Annette von Hehn (violin); Julia-Maria Kretz (violin); Hartmut Rohde (viola); Frank Dodge (cello))
rec. Siemens Villa, Berlin, May and December 2007
NAXOS 8.559324 [68:57]
Experience Classicsonline

Toch’s 1928 Sonata opens in arrestingly brittle fashion. The ride, we think, will be rocky, the terrain uneven for all the Weimar ethos. But it soon uncoils from its initially forbidding appearance and replaces it with a highly effective light heartedness. The Intermezzo is busy, containing moments of contrasting reflectiveness in assured accustomed, classically-based fashion and the broadly extrovert work ends with a cocksure march and a pile driving conclusion. The performers from Spectrum Concerts Berlin are violinist Annette von Hehn and Daniel Blumenthal and they play it with real authority. I was greatly taken by Hehn’s control of dynamics in the higher positions in the opening movement and by the languid piano playing hereabouts as well. A comprehensively fine case is made for the sonata in this first class traversal.
Burlesken is amongst Toch’s most popular works, certainly for piano, for which instrument it was written in 1923. There are three movements – the first being capricious though flecked with melancholia in the B section. The central panel is dapper, sounding not unlike the kind of piano works Martinů was to write in Paris a little later in its extroversion, but again pursuing that Toch bipartite melancholic pull in a way that the Czech composer wouldn’t have done. The final piece of the three, Der Jongleur, was to become something of a encore favourite. It’s a moto perpetuo firecracker. Who plays it now?
The Quintet Op.64 was written just before the Second World War. Toch gave the movements natty names – The Lyrical Part, The Whimsical Part, The Contemplative Part and The Dramatic Part. Flee flowing and flexible he shows his sure compositional instincts – for balance, proportion, weight distribution and the absorption of the piano into the string texture. The Whimsical movement is the scherzo, full of scurry and a lyrical B section led by the piano and bedecked with pizzicati strings. The slow movement is rarefied, limpid, never somnolent and for a long stretch allowing the string quartet to spin its line unimpeded by the piano. The finale has a rather enervated fugal passage but then ratchets the tension to end unequivocally in triumph.
The Three Impromptus for Cello were written much later in 1963. They’re elegiac, obliquely or not so obliquely Bachian  but also possessing a strength of independence- a kind of quizzical vocal quality that arrests attention. The last of the three in particular has a keening, rapt intensity. The piece was originally intended as a birthday present for Piatigorsky - though its melancholia suggests an ending of things as much as a celebration. Toch died the following year.
This is a first class conspectus of some of Toch’s finest chamber works – strongly, potently and sensitively realised by committed forces in fine sound.
Jonathan Woolf

Naxos American Classics page 


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