Edith Kraus

Viktor Ullmann: Klaviersonaten 1-4

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Edith Kraus studied piano with Artur Schnabel and was a fellow inmate of composer Viktor Ullman at Theresienstadt. Just before her 80th birthday, in 1993, she recorded Ullman's first four piano sonatas. He wrote these in the 1930s and early '40s, just before he was sent to Theresienstadt, and they represent his "middle" period of composition. In them, Ullman successfully marries the seeming opposite harmonic principles of Romantic and Second Viennese School music. The sonatas are not quite atonal, in a way similar to the elusive tonality of Messiaen's music or the polytonality of Scriabin's late works. The opening of the Piano Sonata No. 1, in fact, sounds much like Messiaen's wonder-filled, shining piano works. However, reflecting the state of life in Europe at the time, these sonatas are overshadowed for the most part. There is tension and darkness in the music, but tension is always relieved in the end, either through a return to consonance or quieter dynamics, and the weight of the darkness is lightened by animated rhythms in the fast movements. The two variation movements in these sonatas -- the second of the Piano Sonata No. 2 and the third of Piano Sonata No. 3 -- show how adept Ullman was at combining charming, tuneful music with more abstract musical ideas. Each begins in a thoroughly Romantic idiom, but is transformed, fascinatingly, into a thoroughly modern one. Kraus is an amazing pianist, whose sensitivity brings out the colors and expressions of Ullman's music wonderfully. She is able to show the modern side of the music in a way that does not demand attention, but rather, commands it through its strength of character. Thoughtful essays in the booklet, about Ullman and Kraus, accompany the disc. One small caveat: the sound level of the recording is extremely low.

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