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Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté has one of those biographies you couldn’t make up: possible love child of Tolstoy, infant prodigy, husbands not quite à la Alma Mahler – and an output of often gloriously barmy music, as these sonatas demonstrate.

The first (1923) consists of a wild Bachian bourrée, a slightly timid two-part invention with a touch of Spanishry, and a whirlwind Allegro finale. The Second Sonata (1923–24) opens with a mildly Sorabjian nocturne before the mood changes dramatically – imagine Godowsky in a foul temper.

Nos 3 (1924–25) and 4 (1927–31) both showcase Eckhardt-Grammatté’s Spain-flecked mix of manic glee and ferociously active counterpoint. No 3 continues with a rapid Scherzo and a sultry Trio, a brooding Largo and an over-the-top Spanisher Tanz; No 4, less obsessional in mood and thus less individual, has an edgy and increasingly powerful Nocturne, a whirlwind left-hand scherzo and an emphatic finale.

No 5 (1927–30) continues towards a darker, less assertive world, more chromatic though still largely tonal. And the Sixth Sonata is a compositional tour de force, taking the left-hand scherzo of No 4 (written in 1928), adding a bristling right- hand piece (1951) as the central movement, and then (1952) combining the two as the finale – you’ll listen in amazement.

Marc-André Hamelin made these recording for the independent label Altarus in 1990, when his particular brand of prestidigitation was known only among cognoscenti. Now, of course, he’s virtually a household name. It wasn’t a critical cliché then to say that Hamelin’s playing had to be heard to be believed; it is now, but it’s still true.

MARTIN ANDERSON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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