Korngold Piano Sonatas 1-3
It hardly needs repeating that Erich Korngold was one of the most remarkable of all musical child prodigies. Yet it is still hard to credit that his First Piano Sonata is the product of an 11yearold‚ while the imposing Second Sonata was written when he was 13. It is no wonder that Mahler and Richard Strauss were full of wonder at the young Korngold’s talent. It isn’t just his natural gift as a tunesmith‚ but his firmness and maturity of style‚ control of form‚ harmonic ingenuity and distinctive voice that are astounding. The Third Sonata (192931) is a more refined and mature work‚ written two decades later.
Korngold fans may already be familiar with these works‚ either from Matthijs Verschoor’s pioneering recording or Geoffrey Tozer’s fluent account for Chandos. André de Groote’s interpretations are more broadly conceived than Tozer’s: he gives the music more space to breathe‚ while Tozer tends to emphasise its dramatic sweep. De Groote’s taut muscularity and rhythmic solidity (try his majestic grandeur in the passacaglia finale to the First Sonata) contrasts with Tozer’s loosely rhetorical‚ though occasionally more colourful‚ playing. Tozer – with the help of a better balanced and warmer recording – brings a lush but generalised Romanticism to the imposing Second Sonata‚ which nevertheless doesn’t match the concentrated intensity of de Groote’s playing. De Groote’s atmospheric tension‚ confessional tone and emotional poise in the slow movement are especially impressive. His account of the Third Sonata is equally fine‚ and benefits from a more varied and expressive tonal palette.
It’s a pity the sound is so recessed and brittle at the upper octaves. Chandos’s production is superior – better sound‚ bookletnotes and presentation – but for me the personality and conviction of de Groote’s playing challenges Tozer’s more generalised approach.