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Frantisek DUSSEK (1731-1799)
Piano Concerto in D major (c.1774) [20:55]
Piano Concerto in C major (c.1774)[16:15]
Piano Concerto in E flat major (c.1774) [20:49]
Karek Kosárek (piano)
Prague Chamber Orchestra
rec. 29 April-3 May 2007, Church of St Simon and Juda, Prague
ETCETERA KTC1369 [59:12] 

 

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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 ensemble. 

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. 

Terry Barfoot





 


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