The Bohemian composer and pianist Frantisek Dussek rose from humble
origins to be one of the most influential musicians in Prague.
As a young man he gained an aristocratic patron, Count Johann
Sporck, and studied music both in Prague and later with Wagenseil
in Vienna. From 1765 he developed a successful career in Prague,
where he remained for the rest of his life, working as was a keyboard
player, teacher and composer. His wife Josefina was a notable
soprano, and his friendship with Mozart proved important. Mozart
stayed at Dussek’s home when he visited Prague and in fact completed
the composition of Don Giovanni there in 1787. Today the
Dussek house is one of the finest music museums in the world,
a most atmospheric venue.
As a composer Dussek remained loyal to the
lighter galant style, completing some forty symphonies,
plus at least three keyboard concertos, some twenty string quartets,
a good deal of wind chamber music, and sonatas for keyboard:
piano or harpsichord. But he is not the only Dussek, and should
not be confused with the equally important Jan Ladislav Dussek
(1760-1812), another composer of keyboard music whose career
took him throughout Europe. The two were not directly related.
The first thing that needs be said about
this disc of three keyboard concertos is that the recorded sound
is particularly impressive. Set at a high level but with sensitive
balancing, the music leaps out of the speakers at the beginning
of the D major Concerto. As such the music really comes alive,
and it is fresh and appealing, although not profound. The formula
is the usual classical three-movement construction, and in two
of these concertos, the D major and E flat major, the slow movements
are substantial, some ten minutes in each case. While there
are no dramatic experiences after the manner of later classical
masters such as Beethoven, it is a tribute to Dussek’s sensitivity
and taste that the music does not outstay its welcome. In part
this is due to the carefully crafted balance between solo and
In a useful insert note Vojtech Spurny points
out that the music might have been conceived with the harpsichord
in mind, even if it was also played on the new fortepiano. The
keyboard style is direct and to the point rather than indulgent
of virtuosity, and in a different performance a more florid
approach to decoration might occur. Not that the interpretation
of Karel Kosárek is found wanting, since he plays most tastefully
at the same time as directing the excellent Prague Chamber Orchestra.
While there are interesting horn parts it is the strings who
dominate the orchestral textures, and with most pleasing results.
Ten years later Dussek’s friend Mozart was
writing piano concertos which took the genre to new heights.
However, these three works are enjoyable examples of the prevailing
style of instrumental music from the 1770s, and they have real
taste and refinement, as well as no little vitality. None has
been recorded before, and Kosárek and the Prague Chamber Orchestra
can be congratulated on bringing them before a wider public.