, August 2011
While each era of the last few centuries has enshrined its great names into the eternal pantheon of composers, it is well to remember that there were others, perhaps no less meritorious, who came to be omitted. Jan Dussek, born in Bohemia in 1760, lived a colourful life and travelled widely, coming to prominence in the burgeoning London music scene at the end of the Century. Although a feted concert pianist—the first, indeed, to turn his instrument sideways to the audience!—it was as a composer that he drew effusive praise from the visiting Joseph Haydn, and was later to influence Beethoven’s sonata writing. The two Concertos presented here were written in 1793 and 1802, and are joined by an unusual character piece, a programmatic duo for piano and spoken word, lamenting the recently-demised Queen Marie Antoinette, for whom Dussek had regularly performed in the period immediately prior to the French Revolution.
Familiar with Dussek’s reputation but not his music, I’m pleased to confirm that these concertos are thoroughly admirable works, entirely of their time—the earlier reminiscent of Haydn, the latter’s physicality bringing Beethoven to mind, while the disproportionate length of the opening movements even presages the great Romantics. Virtuoso pianistic displays take centre stage, as you’d expect, but the orchestral support is tautly written. Recorded using an 1806 English Broadwood piano, identical to the one that Dussek owned and esteemed as the most powerful of its day (Beethoven too was later to become an enthusiastic Broadwood owner), its sound clearly lacks the body, projection and harmonic brilliance of a modern concert grand; yet it is the sound that the composer had in his head, and I like that. Both Andreas Staier and Concerto Köln are esteemed veterans of the period instrument movement, the orchestra turning in a performance of both sensitivity and high octane dynamics. Recorded in 1992, these performances have been released before, though no mention of that fact (nor any reason for their re-release) appears in the disc’s liner notes; regardless, the excellent sound quality is just another compelling reason to give this a listen.