Ullmann: String Quartet No. 3; Piano Sonata No. 5; Piano Sonata No. 6; Piano Sonata No. 7

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WORKS: String Quartet No. 3; Piano Sonata No. 5; Piano Sonata No. 6; Piano Sonata No. 7
PERFORMER: Radoslav Kvapil (piano); Kocian Quartet
It’s heartening to discover that the flurry of interest in much of the remarkable music composed at the Terezín concentration camp shows little sign of abating. Whether such repertoire will ever be appreciated simply on its own terms, irrespective of the unimaginably awful conditions in which it was written, may seem irrelevant. But there’s little doubt in my mind that the achievement of the Schoenberg pupil Viktor Ullmann will continue to be enhanced with the passing of time.


This present CD features Ullmann’s major abstract works from the years 1943-4, and duplicates the material that is featured in Koch’s 1991 Terezín Music Anthology. However, in almost every respect, Praga’s performances and recording are immeasurably superior. Perhaps by comparison with the Hawthorne Quartet on Channel Classics, the much-acclaimed Kocian Quartet may appear somewhat aloof and cool in the wonderfully mellow opening movement of the Third Quartet. But the players capture the utter desolation of the Largo and the manic energy of the finale to perfection.


Of the three piano sonatas here, the Sixth is easily the most accessible, the others betraying obvious signs that under different circumstances they would have been recast as orchestral works. Yet Radoslav Kvapil makes light of their pianistic difficulties, and even manages to find touching moments of humour, irony and nostalgia in music that is pervaded by an overriding sense of grim determination to survive against the odds. Erik Levi