Allison Brewster Franzetti's debut on Naxos invites the listener to compare and contrast four early modern piano works, performed with muscular vigor and sharp intelligence, and presented in a terrific-sounding album. However, this disc's title is slightly inaccurate, for among the twentieth century piano sonatas by Alban Berg, Paul Hindemith, and Karl Amadeus Hartmann is placed Arnold Schoenberg's Three Piano Pieces, which is neither a sonata nor even of the same century as the other works, as it dates from 1894.
Simon Rattle has recorded a lot of 19th century music and most of the results have been dismal. There is little to recommend by Rattle in pre-20th century repertoire. A few Haydn symphonies, some pretty good Brahms, bits of Mahler, Ein Heldenleben by Strauss which is just at the cusp of the 20th century. Alright, so Rattle is not the conductor to go to for the great classics. However, when he records modern music, he seems fully in tune with it's sound and style, plus he has less competition on the market to boot.
Consummation. This is what the piano music of Arnold Schönberg (1874-1951) and Franz Schubert (1979-1828) have in common, the bridge that Thomas Larcher brings to this welcoming solo recital, his first for ECM. To underscore this point, he shuffles Schönberg’s Klavierstücke op. 11 with Schubert’s posthumous Klavierstücke D 946. By turns halting and didactic, the opening pairing opens into the fresh air of Schubert’s precisely syncopated revelry. The contrasts between the two composers are obvious to the ear, but to the heart Schönberg is an extended exhalation to Schubert’s inhalation. Where Schönberg plots slow, jagged caverns, Schubert runs furtively above ground in the sunshine. Yet both seem so urgent to tell their stories, offering lifelong journeys from relatively young minds.
Some of Janacek's most characteristic invention is to be found in the many choruses he wrote for local choirs who were moved by both a love of singing together and a demonstration of their national identity. There is a good selection here. Even the earliest, a touching little lament for a duck, has a quirkiness which saves it from sentimentality; the latest, the Nursery Rhymes, are marvellous little inventions from the dazzling evening of Janacek's life. One must resist any temptation to say that they take Stravinsky on at his own game: Janacek is his own man. In between comes a varied diet here. Schoolmaster Halfar (or Cantor Halfar) is set with a dazzling range of little musical ironies as the story unfolds of the teacher who ruined his life by insisting on speaking Czech. The Elegy on the death of his daughter Olga goes some way toward dignifying a conventional text with some heartfelt music, but the pressure of grief has not drawn the greatest of his music from him: perhaps more time was needed, and indeed the piano pieces he entitled Along an Overgrown Path re-enter ancient griefs more expressively.