Eisler: Piano Sonata No. 1; Piano Sonata No. 2; Piano Sonata No. 3; Piano Pieces, Opp. 3, 8, 31 & 32; Variations for Piano

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COMPOSERS: Eisler
LABELS: Berlin Classics
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 1; Piano Sonata No. 2; Piano Sonata No. 3; Piano Pieces, Opp. 3, 8, 31 & 32; Variations for Piano
PERFORMER: Siegfried Stöckigt, Walter Olbertz, Gerhard Erber (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 0092352 BC ADD
Anyone who thinks music should be a relaxing balm to the soul had better give this double CD set of Eisler’s piano music a wide berth. Relaxing is the very opposite of what music should be, according to Eisler, who said it should ‘make people more intelligent, and purge them of false grief, sentimentality, and self-pity’. In music separating the real from the fake means keeping a watchful, humorous, ironic eye on anything that smacks of feeling – not to eliminate it, but to subject it to a severe musical critique. This makes for a fleet-footed music, hard to listen to and even harder to play, but the three pianists on these CDs brilliantly negotiate the music’s sudden turns from obstreperous energy to bitter-sweet melancholy to sarcasm. After all the strenuous energy of the early sonatas and character pieces, it’s a shock, and a relief, to come across the gentle melancholy of the Variations on CD2, written for children (they’d need to be remarkably precocious to understand this music). It’s a shame the beefy, unsubtle Seventies recordings make the performances sound more heavy-handed than they really are. But it hardly matters; the value of these pieces, which are true beacons of musical and intellectual integrity, shines through. Ivan Hewett

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