Strauss: Five Piano Pieces, Op. 3; Piano Sonata in B minor, Op. 5; Stimmungsbilder, Op. 9

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COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Five Piano Pieces, Op. 3; Piano Sonata in B minor, Op. 5; Stimmungsbilder, Op. 9
PERFORMER: Frank Braley (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901642
It is fascinating to hear the ‘immature’ music of a famous composer. All of it here was written before Strauss turned 18, and the curious thing is that the earliest pieces, Op. 3, seem somehow the closest to the developed master we either love or loathe. It’s easy to explain why the Sonata, mainly composed when Strauss was only 16, is the least characteristic work. Not only was the composer very young, but he was also trying hard to match up to expectations and fill received forms. The first movement is self-conscious and stiff, with an ambitiously exploratory development section descending into tonally remote depths before Strauss dutifully pulls himself together for the recapitulation. The second movement is innocuous, though with an unusual middle section, the scherzo brief and assured, and the finale offers very occasional glimpses of the later Strauss.

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It is no surprise that the decisive influences are Schumann and Brahms, though in the third and fourth of the Op. 9 pieces Strauss is willing to indulge his own brand of winsome harmony, and savour a saucy progression to a decadent degree.

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The recording is ideal, and this young French pianist, who made his recording debut with a Schubert disc for Harmonia Mundi, is an exquisitely polished player. Adrian Jack