This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
Imaginative, technically commanding playing of rarely heard works by a fascinating, slightly wayward composer.
Like his contemporary Clementi, Jan Ladislav Dussek (1760-1812) was one of a new breed of itinerant composer-virtuosos, feted in salons and palaces from London to St Petersburg. He was also something of a chancer, reputedly implicated in a plot to assassinate Catherine the Great, escaping in the nick of time to England from revolutionary Paris, where he was a favourite of Marie Antoinette, and a decade later, in 1799, abandoning his young wife in London and fleeing to the Continent to avoid his creditors, foremost among them Lorenzo da Ponte.
All four sonatas here date from Dussek's London years,
the most outwardly stable period of a notoriously erratic life, when he was befriended by Haydn and the piano-maker John Broadwood. Op. 31 No. 3, published in 1795 but probably written two or three years earlier, is the most formal and impersonal of the four, and the slenderest both in scale and thematic invention. Most attractive is the finale, with its pastoral melody over a drone bass (shades here, as in the finales of Op. 35 Nos. 1 and 2, of the folk music of Dussek's native Bohemia) and Haydnish boisterousness.
Altogether more arresting and individual is the Op. 35 triptych published in 1797, in which Dussek richly exploits the powerful, colourful sonorities of the five-and-a-half-octave Broadwood grand. The first movement of No. 1 in B flat mingles flamboyant virtuosity and explosive rhetoric with a rhapsodic expansiveness and breathtaking harmonic side-slips that foreshadow Schubert. If the opening Allegro of No. 2 is more conventional in its brilliance, there are, again, remote, poetic modulations, and some fiery contrapuntal writing, in the radically reworked recapitulation. But finest of all is the C minor, No. 3, whose initial Allegro molto agitato has been likened to the corresponding movement of Beethoven's Pathètique and hardly suffers from the comparison. There is little here of the discursiveness found in the other two Op. 35 sonatas. The music is tautly controlled and passionately argued, with rich, romantic textures and a poignant, subtle use of chromaticism, above all in the hushed coda. Fine as they are, neither of the later movements quite matches the first: the Adagio alternates between marmoreal solemnity and ornately expressive figuration, while the rondo finale, preceded by a brief, minor-key introduction, plunges into C major with a brash, slightly desperate gaiety.
"Loud, round, sonorous, dramatic, a little vulgar" is how Christopher Clarke describes the 1806 Broadwood restored by him and used by Andreas Staier in this recording. Certainly, the instrument's sonic intensity, with its weighty bass and halo of resonances produced by the deliberately incomplete damping mechanism, is a far cry from the lightness and transparency of contemporary Viennese fortepianos. And as Staier eloquently demonstrates, it is perfectly suited to the drama, virtuoso brilliance and often deep, rich sonorities of these sonatas. Occasionally I felt that Staier was trying to force the instrument to breaking point. But otherwise I have nothing but praise for his imaginative, technically commanding playing, his acute feeling for colour, texture and rubato and the touch of swagger and abandon he brings to Dussek's virtuoso passagework. He is vividly, if a shade closely, caught by the engineers. I hope that Staier will now go on to give us some of the later sonatas by this fascinating, slightly wayward composer, especially the E flat, Op. 44, and the beautiful F sharp minor, Op. 61.
-- Gramophone [2/1995]
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