Piano music by Gideon Klein, Viktor Ullmann and Zikmund Schul
Francesco Lotoro (piano)
KZ Musik 231786
reviewed by Neville Cohn
It goes almost without saying that any musical composition worthy of the name must be judged on its intrinsic worth irrespective of the circumstances attending its genesis. This can be an almost impossible exercise when considering, say, Gideon Klein’s Sonata for piano. It was written in Theresienstadt concentration camp. Born in Czechoslovakia in 1919, Klein was only 25 years old when, as slave labourer in a coalmine, he died in January 1945.
Francesco Lotoro gives a magnificently authoritative account of Klein’s Sonata. There is a defiant assertiveness in the outer movements – and Lotoro does wonders in evoking this powerful mood in a performance that seizes the attention in a vice-like grip.
Murdered in his prime, Klein’s tragically early death calls that of Schubert to mind. Certainly, the epitaph on Schubert’s tombstone could apply to Klein: “The art of music here entombed a rich possession but far fairer hopes”.
Lotoro is no less impressive in three sonatas by Viktor Ullmann. Sonata No 5, intended as a draft for his Symphony No 1, makes for absorbing listening. Lotoro does wonders with the first movement, seeming to positively relish coming to grips with its trills and strong rhythmic underpinning. The brief Toccatina with its spiky, staccato theme is no less impressively essayed, the finale calling to mind some of Prokofiev’s more engaging essays in pianistic grotesquerie.
Lotoro is wondrously persuasive in the Sonata No 7 with insistent repeated notes in the opening Allegro and a second movement that calls Mussorgsky to mind.
Cadenzas that Ullmann wrote for Beethoven’s 1st and 3rd piano concertos are fascinating inclusions. They are strikingly original, powerfully dense- textured utterances that Lotoro plays as if to the manner born.
Ullmann and his wife died in an Auschwitz gas chamber a day after being deported in October 1944.
The visionary intensity that Lotoro brings to his work cannot be too highly prasied. Certainly, the care lavished on the minutiae of performance is on a par with Lotoro’s ability to convey the grand sweep of whatever work he happens to be playing.
This is a recording that ought to be heard by as many people as possible, not least to marvel at how the creative impulse flourished even in an environment of appallingly murderous cruelty.