These two double-discs from Naxos's blue riband Grand Piano brand, released five months apart, are the first volumes in Michael Tsalka's traversal of Daniel Gottlob Türk's 48 published keyboard sonatas. The fact that these are all - astonishingly - premiere recordings is reason enough to send connoisseurs flocking to retailers, but in fact these are a music historian's dream come true: Tsalka performs on nine
different and often extremely rare period instruments, several of which were recorded at America's National Music Museum in South Dakota. Thus any possible objection to four solid hours of late-eighteenth century keyboard sonatas is rendered null and void: the sheer variety of tone and tuning, let alone Tsalka's expert reading of Türk's highly expressive, idiomatic music, make these albums essential listening for all lovers of good music in authentic performance.
Türk's name will certainly be familiar to amateur pianists and their teachers. His name is at the head of many easy keyboard pieces taken from his pedagogic collection of miniatures, the 'Kleine Handstücke für angehende Klavierspieler'. Türk was taught in Dresden by Gottfried Homilius, himself a pupil of Johannes Sebastian Bach, of whose ideas and style there are clear traces in Türk's music.
In the 'Easy Sonatas' Türk "thought of those amateurs who prefer the easy and pleasing elements of art; therefore I composed several movements, that connoisseurs will probably want to ignore: yet these pieces should not be, hopefully, completely overlooked. I do not advise the very beginner to play these sonatas. Occasionally, I have included [difficult] passages in smaller notes which the performer can omit. The critics might realize through these works that it is not the smallest of tasks, to compose short and easy works, without, in the process, becoming ordinary." Needless to say, they are not that easy, even for those amateurs good enough to cope with the more technically difficult passages: for the emotive scope of Türk's sonatas is far from insubstantial. Tsalka notes in this regard that Türk was suspicious of the recently invented Metronome, which he feared might straitjacket the player. The Easy Sonatas, by contrast, contain elaborate guidance notes for performance, not least expressive-dynamic markings like Allegro di molto con zelo e minaccioso
and Andante innocentement.
In the sonatas from the 1776 and 1777 Collections, Türk is at his most expansive, his rhetorical yet sensitive music full of melodic, rhythmic and dynamic diversity guaranteed to gratify performer and listener alike.
The following tables neatly summarise the array of instruments employed by Tsalka in these recordings:-
Sonata no. Instrument Model Tuning a'= (Hz)
1 spinet JH Silbermann 1785 415
2 harpsichord Kir(c)kmann 1798 415
3 fortepiano AM Th˙m c.1815-20 c.430-35
4 tangent piano Spath & Schmahl c.1780 415
5 clavichord JP Kraemer 1804 390
6 fortepiano AM Th˙m c.1815-20 c.430-35
7 clavichord JP Kraemer 1804 390
8 fortepiano AM Th˙m c.1815-20 c.430-35
9 tangent piano Spath & Schmahl c.1780 415
10 harpsichord Kir(c)kmann 1798 415
11 clavichord JP Kraemer 1804 390
12 harpsichord Kir(c)kmann 1798 415
Sonata no. Instrument Model Tuning a=(Hz)
1 harpsichord Shudi & Broadwood 1781 415
2 grand piano JA Stein 1784 415
3 grand piano Sodi 1785 415
4 upright grand JA Stein 1820 415
5 grand piano Sodi 1785 415
6 harpsichord Shudi & Broadwood 1781 415
7 harpsichord Shudi & Broadwood 1781 415
8 grand piano JA Stein 1784 415
9 grand piano JA Stein 1784 415
10 grand piano Sodi 1785 415
11 upright grand JA Stein 1820 415
12 grand piano JA Stein 1784 415
A photograph and description of each instrument used for the 1776-77 works can be found in Tsalka's notes, which can be read free here
. There are no photos in the first volume - effective descriptions of the instruments by the National Music Museum's curator stand in their stead. All the instruments have their own quite distinctive sound, delightful except for the Sodi grand on the 1783 collection disc - its clattering typewriter-like action more than hinting at why some industrious eighteenth-century piano-maker decided to improve upon it. The Silbermann spinet of 1785 has a particularly pleasing sound, like an 'ergonomic' version of an archetypal harpsichord; alas it is only heard once. Stein's 1784 horizontal grand has a tone and range that is in many ways superior to the upright grand he built 35 years later, and to the fortepianos that followed, like the Th˙m played by Tsalka. The unusual hybrid sound of the rarely recorded tangent piano will surprise anyone who has never heard one before.
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