Erich Itor Kahn was a German pianist and composer who came to prominence following the rise of the Nazi regime in WWII Germany. His father was kantor at the local synagogue, and was responsible for most of Kahn’s training on the piano. At age 14, he began to give recitals of the works of Bach, Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms, and he also dabbled in the works of more contemporary composers such as Ravel and Debussy. In 1928, he was hired by Southwest German Radio, Frankfurt as a pianist, harpsichordist, composer and arranger, and he also attended to the needs of composers who frequently made appearances on the radio. Through this experience he met the likes of Stravinsky, Webern, Bartok, Roussel and Schoenberg, all of which were great influences on his compositional work (especially Schoenberg). In 1933 (because he was Jewish, of course), he was forced by the Nazis to relinquish his radio duties; he and his wife emigrated to Paris, where he quickly was befriended by conductor and composer Rene Leibowitz. Leibowitz was fascinated with Schoenberg’s style, and he eagerly learned everything possible from Kahn, which Leibowitz later transmitted to his pupil Pierre Boulez. When WWII erupted, Kahn emigrated to the United States, where he achieved some level of success as a concert pianist, and also concentrated heavily on composition. In 1955, he suffered a cerebral hemmorrage, and died after spending many months in a coma, never having regained consciousness.
This disc of his piano works, which – as far as I can tell from a rather extensive search on the Internet – is one of only a handful of available recordings of his compositional output. The music is, to say the least, rather difficult, and will probably prove somewhat problematic for many listeners. Admirers of the Second Viennese School will have little to complain about, and will probably be more focused on the lack of availability of more of Kahn’s catalog of works. His piano pieces tend to be very short, not at all unlike the example set by his idol, Arnold Schoenberg, and this was much of the basis for my problems – everything seemed just a bit half-baked or incomplete. Every time I felt the seed of a really good musical idea had started, it was over almost as soon as it had begun. Notable exceptions are the “Ciaccona dei tempa di guerra,” which clocks in at 14 minutes, and the “Five Bagatelles,” several of which reach the four/five minute range, and made for a much more satisfying listen.
In terms of recorded sound, the SACD from Cybele is superb, as always, and offers a very real and believable representation of pianist Thomas Gunther and his concert grand in your listening room. This is an exceptional disc of an almost unknown artist; unfortunately, the music’s appeal will probably be limited by the heavily twelve-tone style of its creator. I still heartily recommend it; lovers of the Second Viennese School will find much here to appreciate.
— Tom Gibbs