Michael Schäfer

Erich W. Korngold: Complete Piano Sonatas

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Erich Wolfgang Korngold composed his clever Sonata No. 1 in D minor at age 11, and his more harmonically advanced and formally realized Sonata No. 2 in E major, Op. 2, at 13 -- amazing feats of ingenuity and technical precocity, but less musically astonishing when examined closely. Korngold's first two sonatas reveal his enthusiasm for virtuoso tricks, and overflow with fistfuls of notes and octave runs that most adult pianists would find daunting. Yet the music is too showy in the fast movements, and pretentiously gloomy in the Largo of the Sonata No. 2; one is hard-pressed to admire these early pieces for more than Korngold's ambitious striving toward greater things. More puzzling, however, is the Sonata No. 3 in C major, Op. 25, written by a maturing composer in his early thirties, yet just as festooned with silly pianistic decorations as the earlier works, and even weaker in its sentimental lyricism. Perhaps the piano's potential for excessive displays proved too tempting to Korngold, who, fortunately, went on to compose greater music for other media than the keyboard. Pianist Michael Schäfer plays the three sonatas and the two amusing filler pieces with tremendous vitality and flair, at least enough to bring off their intended effects without grotesque exaggerations. The recording is adequate, but nothing special.

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