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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Grand Sonata in G, Op. 37 [29:14]
Romanze in F minor, Op. 5 [5:05]
Aveu passionné in E minor [2:09]
Xaver SCHARWENKA (1850-1924)
Piano Sonata No. 2 in E flat, Op. 36 [24:36]
Two pieces from “Im Freien”, Tonbilder, Op. 38 [4:42]
Joseph Moog (piano)
rec. 6-9 January 2014, SWR Studio Kaiserslautern, Germany
ONYX CLASSICS 4126 [65:46]

Tchaikovsky’s “Grand Sonata” was written at the same time as his violin concerto. The composer described it as “one of the least lovable of my children”. This is not true; any time the harshly self-critical Tchaikovsky was not fond of a piece, you know it will be good, while any time he admitted one of his works had any merit, you know it will be great.

The sonata is out of character for him, however. Aside from a slow movement which, at times, recalls the early symphonies and the Hamlet fantasy, the work is confident, blustery, even stylish. The striking beginning sticks in the memory, as one of the most untroubled moments in all Tchaikovsky’s music. The scherzo would fit handily into the ballets, or into an album of Moszkowski.

As rare as this sonata is, Joseph Moog boldly gambles by making it the most popular work on his programme. The other big piece is Xaver Scharwenka’s second sonata. You might have heard Scharwenka’s concertos in the Hyperion Romantic Concerto series or the new Chandos set; the label also has his complete chamber music. The Sonata No. 2 is a confident, capable piece in four movements, with a dark scherzo that brings to mind Chopin’s sonatas. The second tune in the finale sounds a lot like “Hail to the Chief”. A critic quoted in the booklet complains that the piece is sentimental, and it is, but it’s also tuneful, a huge pleasure on the ears, and the perfect length at just 25 minutes. There is only one other recording, part of Seta Tanyel’s complete 4 CD survey of the composer on Hyperion Helios.

Along with the two big pieces, Moog offers about ten minutes of encores, two by each composer. Throughout the recital his playing is confident, virtuosic and sympathetic to the composers’ styles. Recorded sound is rather close, but with no sacrifice in colour or grandeur. All told, this is Moog’s best album since his solo debut, “Divergences”, a recital of Scriabin, Reger and Jongen on the Claves label. He also has a great recording of Anton Rubinstein’s Fourth Concerto to his credit. Moog is really creating a niche for himself as an explorer of good but forgotten music from the late-romantic era. Whatever is next, I’ll be listening.

Brian Reinhart