Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Remembrance restores possibility to the past

Viktor Ullmann: Piano Concerto, Piano Sonata no. 7, Variations

Viktor Ullmann finished his Piano Concerto in Prague in December 1939, nine months after the Nazis had entered Czechoslovakia. By 1942 he was a prisoner in the concentration camp at Theresienstadt, where he was still able to compose, and where in 1994 he wrote his 7th Piano Sonata. But on October 16, 1944, he was moved to Auschwitz-Birkenau and two days later he was murdered. The loss to music was grave; Ullmann was only 46 when he died, and he might have been counted among the great composers of the century given a normal life and lifespan. There is no special pleading needed, since Ullmann's remaining works are of the highest quality, but neither should we forget the horrors from which this music was born. "Remembrance restores possibility to the past," said the philosopher Giorgio Agamben, "making what happened incomplete and completing what never was. Remembrance is neither what happened nor what did not happen but, rather, their potentialization, their becoming possible once again."

The team of pianist Moritz Ernst, the Dortmunder Philharmoniker and conductor Gabriel Feltz provide a vivid, atmospheric reading of the piano concerto, and Ernst's performance of the 7th Piano Sonata is passionate and mournful. The disc is filled out with a piece from happier days: the Variations and Double Fugue on a Theme by Arnold Schönberg, an intricate gem of intellectual, formal beauty.

Here is the second movement Andante tranquillo from the Piano Concerto: partial solace from the looming menace.

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