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Viktor Ullmann: Sonatas No. 1, Op. 10, No. 2, Op. 19, No. 3, Op. 26, No. 4, Op. 38, No. 5, Op. 45, No. 6, Op. 49, & No. 7, Opus posthumous – Menuett “Totentanz”

Jeanne Golan (piano)
Recorded at Oktaven Audio in Yonkers, New York (January 5 and 6, and May 8 and 9, 2011) – 125’21
2 CD set Steinway & Sons 30014 ArkivMusic – Booklet in English contains notes, bios, photo, and sketch

Pianist Jeanne Golan and Steinway & Sons must be loudly cheered for producing and promoting this album devoted to the piano music of the brilliant but little known Austrian composer Viktor Ullmann. Ullmann, who was a protégé of Arnold Schoenberg and a student of Eduard Steuermann was unfortunately relegated to suppression and obscurity by his incarceration and murder by the Nazis during WWII, and by the clamor of post war cultural advancement. In recent years his music has become better known as musicians have come to appreciate the intrinsic value of his work, and it’s importance to our understanding of twentieth-century music. This superb and important recording by Jeanne Golan will do much to broaden appreciation of Ullmann’s music among artists and the public everywhere.

These seven sonatas were written between 1936 and 1944. He composed the first four while living in Czechoslovakia as a freelance composer in Prague. The final three were written during his imprisonment in a concentration camp at Terezin. In 1944 the Nazis transferred Ullmann from Terezin to Auschwitz, where he was murdered. These seven sonatas document musically the arch of Ullmann’s life through these periods. One can hear the homage he pays to Gustav Mahler as a young composer, and later on a deeply expressive, mature, and masterful craftsmanship that is motivated by his imprisonment.

One of the most fascinating characteristics of his compositional style is his frequent paraphrasing and quoting of well-known melodies by other composers. One cannot help but speculate as to what he was doing. Was he commenting on the familiar strains, or making a musical argument of his own that is somehow revealed and strengthened by comparison?

The sonatas themselves require a pianist with a big technique. A pianist who can easily negotiate the requirements of late nineteenth century piano style, and perform with a sensitive and searching imagination, revealing the poetry and pathos with which this music is so profoundly imbued. Ms. Golan meets all of these demands most admirably and she goes a long way in making the argument for instating these sonatas into the standard international repertory. This recording is a “must have” for lovers of great piano music.

As with all of the recordings in this exceptional series produced by Steinway & Sons, the recorded sound is superior on all counts, capturing the sonority of the Steinway Concert Grand in it’s finest and most alluring light.

Micaele Sparacino




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