Ignace Strasfogel: Piano Music / Kolja Lessing

Album cover art for upc 028945535920
Catalog: 2894553592
Format: CD

Kolja Lessing: piano

Ignace Strasfogel: Piano Sonata No.1 / Preludio fugato / Scherzo No.2 / Dear Men and Women (with Martin A. Bruns: baritone) / Piano Sonata No.2

Part of the Decca Entartete Musik series of composers supressed by the Third Reich. Out of Print.
Kolja Lessing is an interesting artist. Apparently equally proficient with the violin (which he teaches) and the piano, he has specialized in the rediscovery of forgotten composers from the Austro-German world between the two World Wars. I first encountered Lessing with his recording of piano music by Felix Petyrek (in a series devoted to the pupils of the then famous late-Romantic composer and teacher Franz Schreker); I got curious about Petyrek, an all-but-forgotten composer, as George Antheil, the self-styled "Bad Boy of Music", mentions him in his autobiography as one of the major composers in the German-speaking area in the early 20s, along with such luminaries as "Berg, [Petyrek,] Webern, Krenek, Hindemith, Schoenberg, Rathaus" (Antheil's ordering - see my review of Felix Petyrek: Piano Music, 1915-28). Likewise, Ignatz or Ignaz Strasfogel (he changed his first name to the French spelling Ignace after 1933) was born in Warsaw in 1909 but studied in Berlin, especially with Schreker (one of his fellow students was Berthold Goldschmidt, whose personal fate and late re-discovery bears resemblances with Strasfogel's). He had a career mostly as a pianist, accompanist of musicians such as Szigeti or Carl Flesch (and later, in America in the late 30s and early 40s, of Lauritz Melchior), and repetiteur in various German opera houses, but he was starting to get a reputation as a composer, and his 1926 Second Piano Sonata won the much-coveted Mendelssohn Prize - a feat all the more remarkable, as he was only 17 then. 1933 abruptly interrupted his burgeoning career (he was only 24 then) and forced him to emigrate to the United States, where he worked as a pianist and later as conductor of the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera. But he was never able to establish himself as a composer there and more or less gave up the effort. His two early Piano Sonatas (1925 and 1926) are pretty incredible for a teen-ager of 16 and 17. Their language is close to Berg's Piano Sonata opus 1, with a post-busonian (or pre-neo-classical) taste for contrapuntal elaboration (as in the 1st movement of the First Sonata and throughout the Second Sonata, especially in its finale), but they are not as cogently organized as Berg's early masterpiece. The scherzo ("Presto scherzando") and finale ("Rondo") of the First Sonata are both whimsical and busy scherzo-like pieces. The slow movement of the first is a stern and somewhat rambling chordal elaboration rising to massive climaxes (some of them, as the one at 2:40, evoking the "serious" piano music of Aaron Copland) over a passacaglia-like ostinato of three intervals (two of which, it seems to me, form the beginning of the famous B-A-C-H sequence). The finale of the Second is a theme with 6 variations, mixing the Busonian modernization of baroque forms ("Fugato", "Canone all'ottava", "Passacaglia") and a Hindemithian interest for new musical languages ("Quasi Jazz-Band").