Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Review: Dussek Piano Concertos - undiscovered gems

Jan Ladislav Dussek as a brilliant pianist, and an accomplished composer. Like is contemporaries Mozart and Haydn, he strove for a clean structure in his music, even as his piano technique became more complex and expressive.

This re-release from Capriccio features two of Dussek's piano concerti, plus an additional oddity for piano and narrator (!). Pianist Andreas Staier is backed by the Concerto Koln. Staier performing on a fortepiano of the period. It's a good call -- on the fortepiano, you can hear the instrument being pushed to its limits. On a modern piano, with its wider range and more durable action, the solo passages would come off sounding a bit more sedate, I think.

The disc opens with Dussek's Concerto in G minor, Op. 49 from 1801. While the structure owes much to Haydn, the harmonies and solo passages look ahead to the piano works of Schubert.The orchestration is fairly perfunctory, but that's a common trait for works of this period. The ensemble was there to back up the soloist, not share the glory!

Although seemingly simple in construction, the melodies often take some unexpected twists and turns, especially in the slow movement. This concerto doesn't have the thundering pronouncements of Beethoven, but it is music by a master of the instrument speaking in a more refined, but nonetheless emotionally expressive voice.

The second work on the disc, the Piano Concerto Op. 22 sounds Mozartian -- and no wonder. Dussek wrote the work in 1793, when Mozart's concertos were well-known (and before Beethoven really got going). Once again, the structure of the piece is clean, while the piano falls all over itself in tumbling scales and arpeggios. But there's a purpose to it all. Dussek crafts some engaging music while he's dazzling us with his technique.

I have to admit I found the last work on the albut a little off-putting. The Tableau “Marie Antoinette” is a recitation (in French) of Antoinette’s demise with the scenes illustrated musically on the piano. Perhaps it works in live performance, but personally, I would have rather have just had the music and the text printed in the booklet.

Andreas Staier does a fine job. His technique is such that he pulls much more expression out of the fortepiano than many musicians can from a modern piano.
Tuneful and appealing -- recommended for the concertos.

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