DUSSEK Sonata in E?, “The Farewell.” CRAMER Variations on “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen wünst Papageno sich.” HAYDN Sonata in E?, Hob. XVI:52 • Malcolm Bilson (fp) (period instrument) • BRIDGE 9263 (62:12)
This disc is all about the London pianoforte and its differences from the Viennese instrument, also known as theRead more German pianoforte. It also concerns the London school of piano composition (Haydn, a visitor from Vienna, wrote his final three sonatas in London). Bilson, who has played and recorded Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven on Viennese instruments over four decades, is the ideal interpreter and program note-writer. He quotes Hummel on the instruments: the Viennese “with great facility as to touch, the (London) with considerably less ease . . . The German piano . . . allows the performer to impart to his execution every possible degree of light and shade, speaks clearly and promptly, has a round, fluty tone . . . To the English construction, however, we must not refuse the praises due, on the score of its durability and fullness of tone.” Bilson found this instrument, a 2003 replica by Chris Mane of a 1798 English pianoforte by Longman & Clementi, to be “nothing short of a revelation.” Its sound is closer to that of a modern piano than are other pianofortes I have heard; one might liken it to a somewhat clunky late-19th-century piano.
Dussek’s 1799 Sonata is an enormous four-movement work, at 35 minutes close to the “Hammerklavier” in scale. It is also surprisingly modern, suggesting Schubert and at times even Chopin, with no hint of the 18th century. An introduction, Grave, could be middle or even late Beethoven. The connection is reinforced by Beethoven’s having imitated some of Dussek’s writing in his own “Les Adieux” Sonata, composed a decade later. Although Dussek cannot match his imitator’s strength and concentration, this is a fascinating work. The first two movements tend to ramble, but the serious Rondo finale (Dussek does not return from his trip, as does Beethoven) is quite marvelous, its wistful, quiet close as convincing as it is appropriate. Despite Bilson’s committed advocacy of this pianoforte, he cannot always make it “speak clearly and promptly.” I would love to hear Dussek’s Sonata on a modern piano, where it could be realized with “great facility,” with no loss to “fullness of tone.” Two such recordings that I have not heard apparently do not include repeats: Becker on cpo and Pleshakov on Lanui.
Johann Baptiste Cramer deserves inclusion here, as he was one of the most prolific and admired of the London school, but his Variations on Papageno’s “Papagena” aria are facile, conventional, and dull, even when one tries to forget Mozart and Beethoven. Bilson’s reading of Haydn’s E? Sonata is wild and wooly, with tempo, dynamic, and phrasing adjustments far in excess of his earlier performance on a Nonesuch LP, which was played on a Viennese pianoforte. Perhaps because of the London instrument, Bilson now plays the Presto finale rather cautiously. This is an interesting performance, but not one I would want to live with. I prefer the work played on a modern piano; of many fine recordings, none has surpassed that by Sviatoslav Richter, whose Adagio is particularly eloquent (Decca: “Richter the Master,” Vol. 6).
Listeners with a special interest in the development of the piano must have this disc. I recommend it to everyone for the Dussek Sonata.
The gem of my collectionJuly 14, 2012By Anthony G. (SANTA FE, NM)See All My Reviews"These piano works, sadly little known today, are the gem of my piano collection. As I play this cd frequently, I keep discovering the hidden gorgeousness of these selections unfolding like a Russian toy doll. This is a profound music that deserves the listener's undivided attention. Those who wish musical wall paper should look elsewhere. "Report Abuse