Thursday, June 14, 2012

Toch: Piano Quintet

Ernst Toch
Last fall, when I was doing my "reissue" series, one of my posts was "The Composer as Accompanist" in which I offered chamber music by John Ireland and Walter Piston with the composers presiding at the piano.  In the same vein, here is a recording of the 1938 Piano Quintet of the Vienna-born Ernst Toch (1887-1964), with the composer at the piano, and accompanied by a quartet consisting of Louis Kaufman and Grisha Monasevitch, violins; Ray Menhennik, viola; and Julian Kahn, cello:

Toch: Quintet for Piano and Strings, Op. 64
Ernst Toch, piano, with the Kaufman Quartet
Recorded February 20, 1941
Columbia Masterworks set MM-460, four 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 68.09 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 36.69 MB)

The work is unusual in that, instead of the usual tempo marks for movement headings, Toch calls his movements "The Lyrical Part," "The Whimsical Part," and so on.  Otherwise the piece is conventional in form, and the harmonic language reminds me of Hindemith.  However, while Hindemith often sounds as if he is channeling Bach, Toch here could be channeling Schumann, for the gestures and intent surely stem from the 19th century rather than the 18th.

Columbia had, in the early 1940s, exactly two works by the expatriate, Jewish Toch (he settled in California in the mid-1930s) on its catalogue, both of which were deleted by the end of the Second World War.  Here is the other one:

Toch: Pinocchio - A Merry Overture (1935)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Frederick Stock
Recorded April 26, 1941
Columbia Masterworks 11665-D, one 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC file, 15.77 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 7.59 MB)

After the war it fell to independent West Coast labels, such as Alco, to further Toch's cause.  (In fact, Toch recorded the Piano Quintet again for Alco, on an early LP.)  An excellent Toch discography can be found here.  Its compiler, Claude Torres, has an impressive site devoted to music of Jewish composers impacted by the Holocaust.


  1. This is very very interesting!
    Thanks again, also for the information!

  2. Fascinating stuff, Bryan. I think he worked for Paramount in LA, and scored Dr. Cyclops! Hollywood wasn't very kind to him.

  3. Louis Kaufman had established himself as a Hollywood concertmaster by that point, and I'll guess the rest of the quartet was players he worked alongside in the studios. Cellist Kahn had started his career in New York, moving to Los Angeles around 1937. Thanks for sharing this piece!

  4. Bryan, many thanks for these. So far, I've listened to the Frederick Stock recording. It is a shame he's becoming a footnote as he doesn't deserve it.

    His recording of Chausson's Symphony ought to be more widely heard, despite or because of Stock's editing. I do hope someone produces a new transfer.

    Now for the quintet. Thanks again.

  5. thanks for sharing.