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Der Ochse Auf Dem Dach Und Andere Verbote

Haufe / Ahmels / Milhaud
Release Date: 10/09/2012 
Label:  Gramola   Catalog #: 98892   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Darius MilhaudLeo SmitErnst TochArnold Schoenberg,   ... 
Performer:  Friederike HaufeVolker Ahmels
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

THE OX ON THE ROOF AND OTHER BANS Friederike Haufe and Volker Ahmels, piano four-hands EXIL.ARTE 98892 (73:29)

MILHAUD Le boeuf sur le toit. SMIT Divertimento for Piano Four-Hands. TOCH Sonata for Piano Four-Hands, op. 87. SCHOENBERG Six Pieces for Piano Read more Four-Hands (1896). GÁL Three Marionettes, op. 74. SCHULHOFF Ironies

The title in the headnote is this Viennese label’s own translation of Der Ochse auf dem Dach und andere Verbote. What it is trying to tell us Yanks is that all this music was banned by the Nazis as Entartete (Degenerate) Musik —a label which has by now become almost a guarantee of fascinating music. The piece in question is our old friend Le boeuf sur le toit ; its ballet has been called The Nothing-Doing Bar , which suits the music as well as describing Jean Cocteau’s scenario.

Le boeuf sur le toit ( Cinéma-Symphonie sur des thèmes Sud-Américains ) is Darius Milhaud’s most scintillating score, an irresistible mix of South American dance rhythms (tango, samba) and piquant, always-in-flux harmonies. Despite the suggestive phrase, the title is not related to Marc Chagall; rather, it is based on a Brazilian folk song. A composer-led performance on a Nonesuch LP sounded muddy and confused; at the time, Antal Doráti’s crisp, clean performance on a dazzling Mercury stereo LP seemed preferable. But a miraculous Charlin LP (now an equally remarkable CD, SLC 17-2), displayed the same 1958 Milhaud recording as an audiophile triumph. His orchestra proved to be master of every brilliant facet, making other readings sound dull and slow—taking 15 minutes to Doráti’s 18 and Leonard Bernstein’s 20.

The reduction to piano duo is Milhaud’s own (as is a chamber version). Perhaps Vladimir Horowitz and Glenn Gould could play it in 15 minutes, but Friederike Haufe and Volker Ahmels are merely human. Even at 19 minutes, we encounter some heavy going—which is not out of place in this wild and crazy music. More damaging is a tendency to soften the lines, pushing this dynamic work in the direction of salon music. One fantasizes: What piano team could best realize the piece? I have settled on George Gershwin and Béla Bartók, not only for their essential chops but for hints of their own music heard in Milhaud’s writing.

The remaining works fall under the shadow of Milhaud’s brilliance. Leo Smit was a little-known Dutch composer who perished in the Holocaust; the three movements of his Divertimento bubble with seductive charm: easy-going, rollicking music with a faux air of classicism. Ernst Toch’s Sonata is not what we would expect from his op. 87, but rather a Prokofiev-like bow to Haydn and Mozart spiced by modern touches. Arnold Schoenberg’s 1896 Six Pieces were his answer to a challenge to write in the manner of Schubert. They, too, add charm to this recital, offering little hint of the serious composer Schoenberg would become. Hans Gál’s Three Marionettes —Pantalone, Colombina, Arlecchino—reek with character without ever becoming human in the manner of Petrushka, his ballerina, and the Moor. Erwin Schulhoff’s six Ironies display his usual sly, quirky humor; as with so much of his oeuvre, they grab our attention but leave little trace in the memory. Although small in scale, each piece by these five composers offers its own considerable rewards. All fall well within the capabilities of Haufe and Ahmels, who play them with grace and charm, making this good-humored recital “lite” a winner.

FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

Le boeuf sur le toit, Op. 58 by Darius Milhaud
Performer:  Friederike Haufe (Piano), Volker Ahmels (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1919; France 
Divertimento for Piano 4 hands by Leo Smit
Performer:  Friederike Haufe (Piano), Volker Ahmels (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1942; Netherlands (Holland 
Sonata for Piano 4 hands, Op. 87 by Ernst Toch
Performer:  Friederike Haufe (Piano), Volker Ahmels (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Pieces (6) for Piano 4 hands by Arnold Schoenberg
Performer:  Friederike Haufe (Piano), Volker Ahmels (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1896 
Three Marionettes Op. 74 by Hans Gál
Performer:  Friederike Haufe (Piano), Volker Ahmels (Piano)
Ironies (6), Op. 34 by Erwin Schulhoff
Performer:  Friederike Haufe (Piano), Volker Ahmels (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1920 

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