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Viktor Ullman (1898-1944), student of Schoenberg and Hans Krása, wrote seven piano sonatas, the first four while in Prague, the remainder in notorious Terezín. The echoes of Schoenberg are strong in the First Sonata; yet its central slow movement is a sparse, desolate funeral march In Memoriam Gustav Mahler. Ullman also allows folk music into his music as well as the music of other composers (the finale of the Third Sonata is a set of Variations from a theme from Mozart, while the Seventh Sonata’s finals is Variations and Fugue on a Hebrew Folksong). The playing here is first class, as is the recording. It is tempting to try to find influences (Berg, Gershwin, Weill, Bartók), but Ullman has a compelling voice of his own. The Seventh Sonata was the last work he completed and the music takes on a new complexity. The Menuett (rejected from the Fifth Sonata) is, as Totentanzen go, surprisingly tender.

COLIN CLARKE Read the full review on Agora Classica

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