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Robert KAHN (1865-1951)
Violin Sonata No 1 in G minor, Op.5 (1886) [25:58]
Violin Sonata No 2 in A minor, Op.26 (1896) [16:33]
Violin Sonata No 3 in E major, Op.50 (1906) [23:05]
Five Images, Op.36 (1902) [20:52]
Variations on an Old Song (1925) [15:57]
Two Pieces, Op.4 (1887) [11:22]
Suite, Op.69 (1919) [19:32]
Two Little Pieces [4:19]
Elina Vähälä (violin)
Oliver Triendl (piano)
rec. October 2012, Siemensvilla Berlin-Lankwitz, Studio P4, Berlin and RBB Studio 3, Berlin
CPO 777 785-2 [64:52 + 73:04]

From a cultured German-Jewish family in Mannheim, Robert Kahn studied with Friedrich Kiel in Berlin and later with Rheinberger in Munich. His hero remained Brahms, who took a shine to the young Kahn and gave him several composition lessons in Vienna. In time, he became an admired vocal coach, pianist and teacher, and amongst his pupils numbered Günter Raphael and Nikos Skalkottas as well as Wilhelm Kempff and Arthur Rubinstein. Suffering increasing privations at the onset of the Nazi regime he emigrated to England in 1938 where he lived quietly though productively. The fine booklet notes tell us that in retirement in the English countryside he created the largest cycle of piano pieces in history – the Tagebuch in Tönen, consisting of 1160 pieces. It remains, perhaps unsurprisingly, unpublished.

His works for violin and piano occupy two reasonably well-filled discs. The works are not programmed chronologically so that the twofer opens with the mature Sonata No.2 of 1897 rather than the ‘prentice Sonata No.1. Stormily turbulent in best late-Romantic fashion it sports a most attractive central movement which functions as a kind of yearning lied whilst the finale is capricious, full of energy and freewheeling. Throughout, interest is maintained in the piano part just as much as the violin.

That early sonata dates from 1886 and shows Schumann’s influence on the budding Kahn, and the ardour of the music, warmed by pathos and vocalized themes and long lyrical lines, augured well for future development. Certainly, the A minor was an advance and the final sonata, No.3 in E major represented yet another step forward. Here quiet melancholy nestles alongside a scherzo of playful verve but the main balance of the work falls on the long finale. The notes say it lasts a quarter of an hour but in this performance, it’s twelve-and-a-half-minutes. It’s a tripartite structure – slow, fast, slow – and includes a fugal section, some sorrowing figures and a resigned close.

The five Tonbilder, Op.36 are Schumannesque character pieces of lyricism and charm, the last having an element of Grieg about it. The unpublished Variations on an Old Song was probably his final violin work and is unusual in that it seems to reveal characteristically Jewish elements, recognizably Hassidic indeed from the sound of things. But the faster and slower sections are attractively laid out and there’s pathos too, so maybe this had a very personal meaning for Kahn. The charming earlier Two Pieces, Op.4 show his deep attachment to Brahms. The other major work is the Suite, Op.69 which has plenty of dance-like panache, and not a little Schubertian lyricism. Finally, the first of the two Little Pieces possesses a Raff-like melodiousness that betokens the true character piece.

A competing disc on Toccata (TOCC0021) has all three sonatas, but none of the ancillary works. I’ve not heard it but simply note that the CPO team is faster in each sonata, if that’s of any interest. Occasionally violinist Elina Vähälä exhibits a touch of tonal thinness but otherwise plays with perception. The hard-working Oliver Triendl – I seem to review a disc a week by him, or so it seems – is his usual characterful self. The recording is well judged, and though things have been on the shelf for a while, it’s good these performances have been made available now.

Jonathan Woolf



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