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available from Forgotten Records

L’Echo des batailles
Daniel STEIBELT (1765-1823)
Grande Sonate in E flat major, Op.45 (1800) [29:45]
La Destruction de Moscou (1812) [25:49]
Louis Emmanuel JADIN (1768-1853)
La Grande Bataille d’Austerlitz (1806) [14:46]
Jean-Frederic Auguste LE MIÈRE DE CORVEY (1771-1832)
La Bataille d’Jena (1806) [21:33]
Jan Ladislav DUSSEK (1760-1812)
Sonata in F sharp minor, ‘Elégie harmonique’, Op.61 (1807) [16:43]
Christian Friedrich RUPPE (1753-1826)
La Grande Bataille de Waterloo, Op.23 (1815) [19:22]
Ignaz MOSCHELES (1794-1870)
Grandes Variations sur le Chute de Paris (1815 rev. 1822) [16:33]
Daniel Propper (piano)
rec. January-March 2012, Studio Forgotten Records, Rennes
FORGOTTEN RECORDS FR16/17P [65:47 + 78:31]


 
The subtitle of the uncommonly well annotated booklet spells out its raison d’être; ‘Piano pages of Napoleonic history’. In an ingenious piece of programming, we have an album of Echoes of the Battlefield, 1800-1815, in which depiction, reportage, naivety, sycophancy and bravura are served up for the edification and enjoyment of the Emperor or, when vanquished, his conquerors.
 
I have never come across a set quite like it. Daniel Steibelt, Louis Emmanuel Jadin, Jean-Frédéric Auguste Le Mière de Corvey (hereafter Le Mière, if you don’t mind), and Christian Friedrich Ruppe are the least well-known composers and their works are augmented by those of the pan-European virtuosos Dussek and Moscheles. The result is a 2-CD box heady with gun smoke and manoeuvre.
 
Steibelt (1765-1823) dedicated his Grand Sonata to Madame Bonaparte. It was published in 1800 and probably first performed by its composer at the end of that year or early the next. The Berlin-born Steibelt, who lived a remarkable, picaresque life, is forgotten now but Berlioz admired his Romeo and Juliet. His sonata has largely sunk without trace, as with almost all his music, but it proves an interesting retrieval. It boldly launches a triumphant fanfare motto theme and continues with martial self-confidence. Steibelt’s rich patterns are very loquacious – rather too many notes Herr Steibelt, one feels – but despite the very full textures, his harmonies can be piquant. His trills and tremolandi exude warlike verve, and his finale is suffused with the kind of virtuosic panache paraded by his eminent contemporaries such, indeed, as Dussek and Moscheles.
 
The other work by him is the 1812 La Destruction de Moscou, a title that requires no translation. Here he ventures into proto-silent cinema music. It is a Grand Fantasia full of descriptive passages, subtitled musically in the score and duly presented to us in the booklet in all its scene-by-scene motion. Thus an adagio passage on the theme of God Save the King is soon followed by an outburst where the Kremlin explodes. Yet in the light of some of the other works in this set – which really are extraordinary examples of simplicity – Steibelt stands at a remove. His ideas are profuse, his imagination colouristic, his stylistic affinities straddling the Classical/Romantic divide. His ostinati and gift for variation put one in mind, indeed, of a cousin of Schubertian fantasy. One wouldn’t wish to push the matter too hard, or to claim Steibelt possessed truly Schubertian melodic gifts, but he is a composer whose works are worth getting to know.
 
Louis Emmanuel Jadin exemplifies very much more the cartoonish aspect of the pianistic grand fantasia of the time. His La Grande Bataille d’Austerlitz is full of bugle calls, drum rolls, quick-step Marches, reveilles, battle scenes and then waltzes, and triumphal processions. They unveil with bewildering speed but are written in an approachably elegant style. Le Mière’s 1806 La Bataille d’Jena is the work of a misfit composer, a Don Quixote of the battlefield, whose composition is more a series of effects and military narratives than a coherent musical work. It is far less sophisticated than Jadin’s appreciably more grown-up version. That said, as a once-off experience its scenes are exciting.
 
Christian Friedrich Ruppe was a Saxon who spent most of his working life in the Netherlands. His depiction of the Battle of Waterloo is, like Le Mière’s earlier work, an engraving cartoon of daring simplicity, evoking calls to arms, national anthems (Dutch and British), and scenes of disorder and shouts of victory. Little dissonances cement the atmosphere.
 
Dussek’s 1807 elegy on the death of Louis Ferdinand of Prussia is a world away from the garish primary colours of unsophisticated Ruppe. Of all the works in this set, it’s probably the only one still played. Poetic and intimate, it’s appropriately reflective in its subtle quotation from Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Christ. The second of the two movements is more flowing and extrovert, and could just possibly be more so in this performance. The Grand Variations on the Fall of Paris was written by Ignaz Moscheles in 1815 and revised in 1822 in which version it’s heard here. Because of the theme that pays tribute the ‘saviour of Europe’, the Russian Alexander I, it’s often referred to as ‘The Alexander Variations’. This spectacular piece of pianistic brilliance was designed to excite and thrill, and that it still does. But it does also plumb some truly rich expressive depths, such as can be found in variation six, the last variation in the central movement.

This innovative set is played with huge dedication and skill by Daniel Propper, Swedish-born in 1969 and Paris-resident since 1994. The notes, 56 pages in length, in French and English, are by Olivier Feignier, and are full of revealing detail and biographical elucidation.
 
Jonathan Woolf
 

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