This is Michael Bilson’s first recording for the enterprising
Bridge label. One looks forward to many more to come. Bilson’s
discography is extensive, including Mozart Piano Concertos with
the English Baroque Soloists under John Eliot Gardiner. His high
standards are as secure as ever.
There is already an excellent recording of Dussek’s “Farewell” Sonata
Becker on cpo 777 020-2. This is an all-Dussek release recorded
in 2003 that also includes the sonatas in F sharp minor, Op. 61
and the A flat, Op. 64. The piece is a farewell from the composer
to his family at the point at which he had to flee England due
to his creditors - not the most romantic basis for a work’s label.
And yet, the result from Dussek’s pen is a work that will surely
intrigue and delight in equal measure. Some elements of the writing
look forward significantly from the composition date.
plays on a modern instrument. His reading is ever stylish and
includes moments of humour as well as real depth and charm.
The Radio Bremen recording is exemplary. Here on Bridge, Bilson
plays his entire recital on a Chris Meane 2003 replica of a
1798 5 ½-octave English pianoforte by Longman and Clementi.
The more demanding passages sound, if anything, even more powerful
in Bilson’s hands. He, too, can charm. Bilson even achieves
further depth than Becker in the Molto Adagio e sostenuto
(10:39 against Becker’s 7:53); his legato is immensely impressive,
as is his carrying of cantabile melody around the six-minute
mark. In contrast, the Tempo di Menuetto verges on the
violent, imbuing Dussek with a backbone many would hesitate
to credit him with. The finale, too, betrays an intensity of
utterance that is quite remarkable. The rather close recording
helps to draw the listener in. The piece itself is well worth
getting to know. Its strengths seem to grow on each listening.
appears to be the only currently available recording of the
Cramer. Although only six minutes long, it is a skilful piece
of many delights and acts as a lovely intermezzo between the
two major sonatas of this release.
three great piano Sonatas date from the period of the composer’s
1794-5 visit to London. Bilson recorded the E flat on a Walter-type
piano for Nonesuch in the 1980s (currently unavailable). He
speaks of the revelatory effect of playing it on an English
piano, about how it emerges as a clear concert piece - as opposed
to music intended for domestic/private music-making. Cleverly,
Bilson points to Haydn’s use of the Neapolitan relation in this
work. This occurs most obviously in the placing of the slow
movement in E major, but elsewhere also. It’s a relationship
much beloved by Dussek. The performance itself is full of wit
and yet clearly reflects the sheer scope of Haydn’s canvas.
Those who prefer modern instruments may wish to cuddle their
Brendel (416 3652) but Bilson makes a wonderful case for a more
authentic instrument approach. His evocation of horn figures
is most effective, as is his laying bare of the loneliness at
the heart of the Adagio, where repeated notes can seem to edge
on desperation. The repeated notes are re-contextualised in
the finale, where they generate energy - the spiky accents stab
most effectively here, also.
own booklet notes are a model of their kind. He includes reactions
to various instruments as well as music examples and pointing
out similarities between the Dussek and Beethoven’s Op. 81a
Sonata, a work the Duessk precedes by a decade. He considers
the Cramer Variations almost as an afterthought at the end of
the booklet and; although it is the slightest work, it is actually
sandwiched in playing order between the two sonatas on the recording
itself. A recording of Cramer’s Piano Concerto No. 5 was part
of the Turnabout LP catalogue and can be found on CD reissue
(Turnabout 30371, coupled with two works by Hummel); Howard
Shelley also recorded a full disc of Cramer concertos (CHAN10005).
minor point: on my review copy, the name ‘Haydn’ is mis-spelled
as ‘Hayden’ on the CD spine - it is correct elsewhere.