Robert Cowan reviews recent reissues Toch: Symphony No 3 Hindemith: Mathis der Maler - Symphonie Martin: Petite Symphonie Concertante Pittsburgh SO / William Steinberg. Leopold Stokowski SO / Leopold Stokowski (Recorded: 1956-57) (EMI "Matrix" 5 65868 2)
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The Independent Culture
Three must have been Toch's lucky number. His Third Symphony is the best-known of eight: it was commissioned by the American Jewish Tercententary Committee of Chicago and is cast in three movements (playing time: 30 minutes), the first of which is a tripartite "ballistic curve with an initial impulse" (Toch's own words). Thereafter, nothing is predictable. The doleful opening is granted to the bassoon; there are sardonic march rhythms, celestial interludes, spooky Hammond organ solos and written parts for what the liner notes describe as a "hisser" (a tank of carbon dioxide operated by releasing a valve) and a "device filled with wooden balls set in motion by a wooden crank"!

And where does it all lead? In this particular case, to Hindemith (Toch's most obvious influence) and a stylish reading of the Mathis symphony. Steinberg secures a cool, tender and ultimately exultant performance, beautifully played and stunningly well recorded for 1956.

Stokowski's colour-conscious account of Frank Martin's Petite Symphonie Concertante (for piano, harp, harpsichord and strings) is no less remarkable, with luscious string playing and nimble (unnamed) soloists. Though vaguely reminiscent of Britten, Ravel, De Falla and Martinu, the Symphonie is chock-full of good ideas and should be far better known.

Brahms: Violin Sonatas Nos 1 & 2

Schumann: Violin Sonata No 1

Reger: Allegretto (Violin Sonata No 5)

Adolf Busch (violin), Rudolf Serkin (piano)

(Recorded: 1931-37)

(Appian APR 5542)

Mention Adolf Busch and those in the know will tell you that the Busch Quartet was one of pre-war Europe's finest chamber ensembles. But how about Busch the brilliant solo violinist and distinguished composer?

Serkin was Busch's duet partner and son-in-law; the two virtually breathed in unison and their recorded performances are widely prized as classics. Schumann's A minor Sonata opens with one of those moody, long-breathed themes that can so easily turn maudlin but which, in the right hands, positively glows. Busch garnishes his curvaceous phrasing with distinctive slides while Serkin keeps a sharp eye on the stormy piano part.

The two Brahms Sonatas parade a strong solo line and much introspective poetry, most especially in the G major's searching Adagio; the A major is rich in improvisational flair; while the quizzical Allegretto by Busch's friend Max Reger makes for a tantalising "encore".

Appian's transfers - taken from quiet vinyl pressings - are the best we've had.