, July 2011
As is self-evident from the early recording date, this is a re-release. The disc was first issued in 1995 as Capriccio 10444, and is identical apart from the cover artwork, which, it must be said, is a considerable improvement on the gaudy original. Capriccio 10444 is still available on the internet on various commercial sites—in fact, the Naxos store at classicsonline.com offers a choice of either at the same download price. The original disc almost shades it in fact, thanks to the hilarious heading on the front cover which proclaims “Piano Concertos of the Beethoven Area”!
When this disc first appeared, it was one of few recordings of Dussek’s music. Today, there are still shamefully few recordings, so this release offers a good opportunity to the music-lover to acquire this highly collectible disc, particularly as the sound quality is very good, both balance-wise and technically—putting many modern recordings to shame, in fact.
‘Dussek’ is an authentic spelling, by the way, in that it was the form used by Jan Ladislav, at least once he left Bohemia. The original Czech version of his name was ‘Dussik’, which nowadays would be spelt ‘Dusík’. Further Dussek-related confusion may arise from the fact that his father was also a composer called Jan (1738–1818), and from other composers in this musical family to rival Benda or Stamic, including Dussek’s brother FrantiŠek/Franz (1766–1816), his sister Katerina (1769–1833)—also known as Veronica, whose surname sometimes occurs in its Czech form Dusíkova, but was also known under her married name Cianchettini; his wife Sophia (1775–1847), whose surname became Moralt when she remarried after Dussek’s death; and his daughter Olivia (?1798–after 1841), whose music was published under the name “O.B. Dussek”, the “B” standing for her married name Buckley.
In any case, there are 17 piano concertos in all by Jan Ladislav, including one for two pianos and an early work which has been lost. One published as op.66 is actually a cheeky alloy of the outer movements of one concerto and the middle of the B flat op.22. The publishing chaos of the time can be further illustrated by the fact that the G minor Concerto op.49 was also published as op.50. The Sufferings of the Queen of France op.23 was also published under “op.44” and again without opus number!
Dussek’s monumental Piano Concerto in G minor, op.49, is an as yet unrecognised masterwork of the era in this genre. Though only four years separate Dussek and Mozart, and despite the fact that this work is initially redolent of Mozart’s highly influential C minor concerto K.491, Dussek’s piano writing by 1801, the year he wrote this Concerto, clearly belongs to a different time, with greater expressiveness, chromaticism, more adventurous chords and richer textures. Though structurally pretty much of its time—a long Allegro, followed by a shorter Adagio and a Rondo finale—this work peers harmonically and dramatically far into the century ahead as one of the pioneers of the Romantic piano concerto. The long, brooding first movement has a Sturm und Drang feel to it, as do the dramatic exclamations in the otherwise calm slow movement whose lyrical quality is reminiscent of Schubert. The final Rondo, marked Allegro non troppo, makes fine use of silence and ritenuti, but is otherwise a bustling, optimistic, ironically almost Haydnesque movement. Dussek waited nearly a decade before composing a final work in this genre...although he did in the meantime write the one for two pianos.
The Piano Concerto in B flat, op.22 is a more exuberant, but also more modest and fairly conventional work: the orchestration is straightforward textbook Classical, the piano writing virtuosic though never tawdry. It sounds considerably more like a cross between Viennese Mozart and Beethoven, particularly the latter’s own Concerto in the same key, the so-called Second that was in fact his first. As Dussek’s work predates Beethoven’s by two years, the direction of influence is all the more intriguing.
As an indisputable fortepiano virtuoso and expert on this period, Andreas Staier quite unsurprisingly gives a brilliant performance in both concertos, even at this relatively early stage in his career. Staier’s decision to interpolate some of his own music at the start of the final movement of the op.22 Concerto on the grounds that “one becomes weary of the key of B flat major”, which Dussek had unusually written all three movements in, is controversial and perhaps arrogant—but thankfully it is tastefully and seamlessly done, and does not detract from Dussek’s fine music.
The fortepiano Staier plays here is both historically appropriate and a tribute to Dussek’s own influence on the development of the instrument through his relationship with the Scottish manufacturer John Broadwood, whom he persuaded to extend its range in the early 1790s from five to five-and-a-half octaves and then again to six. The fortepiano used in this recording is in fact an 1806 Broadwood, and with the period instruments of Concerto Köln creates a marvellously authentic sound.
The final work on the disc is a real curio, and not just because the title of The Sufferings of the Queen of France is given in the track listing as Tableau “Marie Antoinette”. What Dussek’s original title was is not clear—the booklet gives no contextual information at all about the work, not even a hint as to why it has even been included on the disc—it is written after all for piano solo. The New Grove Dictionary gives only the Sufferings title and, moreover, makes no mention of a text or narrator. The most likely explanation is that Dussek himself made notes in the score.
Appropriately the text is recited in 18th-century French, with a strangely modern-seeming overlap in places of declamation and music. The text is printed in the booklet in modern French, which differs slightly, and there is a translation into German. Oddly there is no English version—though Capriccio is an Austrian label, the rest of the booklet does have an English section, so this looks like an omission. On the other hand, even with half-forgotten school-level French almost everyone should be able to follow the ‘action’. And in any case, this is not a work that will likely appeal to all and sundry—whilst some will find it a well-written, imaginative tribute to an interesting historical figure personally known to Dussek, others will see it more as feeble melodrama. The ten brief sections are titled as follows:
1 Largo: The Queen is imprisoned
2 Maestosamente: She reflects on her former greatness
3 Agitato assai—andante: She is separated from her children—Final farewells
4 Allegro con furia: The death sentence is pronounced against her
5 Allegro innocente: Her resignation
6 Andante agitato: The situation during the night before her execution. The guards who must escort her to the place of execution arrives. They enter the prison
8 Presto furioso: The angry tumult of the crowd can be heard
9 Molto adagio: The Queen prays to the Almighty at the moment of death. The Guillotine falls
10 Allegro Maestoso: Apotheosis
Dussek wrote the piece away from the turmoil of the Revolution in England, although whether or not he actually fled there, as some biographies claim (including the one in the New Grove Dictionary), is, like several stories attached to this larger than life figure, open to debate—by 1807 he was back working in Paris, where he stayed until he died. In any case, the piece is musically interesting both for its multiple modulations and for its rhetorical figurations which Dussek employs to great effect to create dramatic flourishes, sighs, tears, drumming, and the fall of the Guillotine blade.
The CD booklet is informative, with an interesting note by Christopher Clarke, who restored the 1806 Broadwood, on “Dussek and the English Piano”. However, the translation of the notes on Dussek’s music leaves a little to be desired...