Spectrum Concerts Berlin

Ernst Toch: Piano Quintet

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Self-described as "the most forgotten composer of the twentieth century" before his death in 1964, Ernst Toch experienced a revival of interest four decades later. All seven of his symphonies had been recorded by 2004, along with his eight extant string quartets and a fair number of his other works. Some, including three of the four works on this disc by the players of the Spectrum Concerts Berlin, have even gotten second recordings. The biggest piece here, the four-movement Piano Quintet from 1938, has also been recorded by Diane Andersen and the Danel Quartet, while the slighter Three Impromptus from 1963 have been recorded by cellist Steven Honigberg and the lighter Burlesken from 1923 have been recorded by pianist Christian Seibert.

This is appropriate. After all, if Schoenberg's Woodwind Quintet can have multiple recordings, so can Toch's Piano Quintet, especially if those recordings are as fine as this one. Though Andersen and the Danel Quartet's performances surpass it in terms of pure passion, the performance by the Berlin players boasts a tighter ensemble and a more objective interpretive stance that pays off in articulating the work's heroic tone. Pianist Daniel Blumenthal turns in an ironically hectic reading of the Burlesken, particularly in the recklessly fast closing movement marked Muito vivo. The late Impromptus receive tenderly moving performances from cellist Frank Dodge with a closing Adagio whose inward tone is deeply affecting.

The Second Violin Sonata from 1928 receives what appears to be its recorded debut in this violently expressionist reading by violinist Annette von Hehn that suits the music's aggressive modernity. Recorded in bright, clear sound in 2007, these performances may prove equally enjoyable to those who already know the works, those who already know Toch but not the works, and those who know neither the works nor Toch but who enjoy the music of Weill and Hindemith.

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