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Richard Strauss

Annotated Discography

Sonata for Piano in B minor, Op. 5

CBS MK38659
Glenn Gould, piano (1982).

The third piano sonata Strauss composed and the only one assigned an opus number, the work reveals an ambitious 16-year-old. The first movement (of four), lasting about ten minutes, takes its principal motif from the first movement of Beethoven's fifth symphony. The slow movement and the scherzo, a bit more modest, show the influence of the Mendelssohn Lieder ohne Worte and the fairy music from Midsummer Night's Dream, respectively, while the last movement is essentially another character piece, rather than a true sonata movement. At this early stage, Strauss impresses you with the expertise of the piano writing, rather than with the force of his musical ideas, mostly pretty four-square.

This is Glenn Gould's final recording. He adored Strauss and Wagner. His Wagner transcriptions for the piano are magnificent. We owe to Gould the only recording for many years of Strauss' melodrama Enoch Arden (Claude Raines, speaker). He wondered why the piano sonata was not done more often and decided to champion the work. The reasons for other pianists not answering the call are pretty clear. The music is ambitious without being distinguished (the humbler Funf Klavierstucken, Op. 3, which couples the sonata have more substance). Strauss progressed rapidly. The cello sonata and first horn concerto show an amazing advance over two years. Gould clearly believes in the piano sonata, but not even he can make bricks without straw. He can't disguise the lackluster quality of the themes, and he can't generate a physical excitement from the non-virtuoso piano writing.

The recorded sound is superb, with the sonic image of a real room rather than an electronically contrived acoustic space.

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