CPO has already released two CDs of Eberl’s music, featuring two of his piano concertos (CPO 777 354-2 – see review), and chamber music with piano (CPO 777 184-2) respectively. For their third investigation of the composer’s works, they have concentrated on his solo piano music.
Anton Franz Joseph Eberl was born in Vienna on 13 June 1765, which puts him chronologically between Mozart and Beethoven. Indeed he was one of the latter’s leading rivals in the field of instrumental music. Unfortunately a good deal of his compositions have been lost. Having studied with Mozart, Eberl’s compositions were often passed off as from the pen of his far more illustrious teacher.
Eberl contributed to many musical genres, but his works for, or with piano, even more than with Beethoven, occupy the main thrust of his output. The Sonata in G minor, op. 27 (Grande Sonate) appeared at the beginning of 1805, a few months before Beethoven’s Waldstein. It is dedicated to Luigi Cherubini whose French revolutionary and rescue operas clearly inspired Eberl, for example in terms of the G minor Sonata’s opening gambit.
Interestingly Marie-Luise Hinrichs plays on a conventional piano here, rather than the fortepiano which is heard on the concerto CD mentioned above. Immediately this feels ‘right’. The piano does not overpower the musical ideas, in the way that a full concert grand can do, when sometimes pitted against an over-large orchestra in a Mozart concerto. It is well recorded from the outset – a clear, natural, bright sound, with no intrusive action noise.
It opens in a fairly standard manner, featuring a somewhat martial theme with dotted rhythms and brief silences. The listener would be forgiven for thinking that this is just going to be another pleasing work by a contemporary ‘minor’ composer, and one perhaps not destined to set the world alight, even back at the start of the nineteenth century.
Only some thirty seconds or so into the opening movement – just when we feel the composer is about to round off this perfunctory opening G minor section – he shifts the music a semitone up, and embarks on a most lyrical passage. This then culminates in the conventional arrival of a contrasting second theme. This one quite magical and totally unexpected moment, and so early on, too, might not make you want to rush out and buy a copy, but especially in the remainder of this three-movement Grande Sonate, there is definitely a lot to make this disc worthy of further investigation. True, there are echoes of Dussek and Clementi, even nods towards Hummel, and certainly hints of the harmonic juxtapositions and modulations so characteristic of Schubert, but it is certainly possible to discern an individual voice in Eberl’s music. It’s attractive on the ear without ever being merely banal.
The two sets of Variations are more conventional in structure. Both are interesting exercises in how the composer manipulates each theme to provide a coherent whole, without the respective themes outstaying their welcome and palling on the ear. Here again, for example, Eberl stamps some originality on the penultimate variation of the first set, on a theme from Dittersdorf’s opera ‘Der Gutsherr oder Gürge und Hännchen’. He completely abandons the structural outline of the theme and shifts from two to three time. The second set — on a ‘Romanze’ from Umlauff’s Singspiel ‘Das Irrlicht’ — is considered an earlier work but again not without some surprises along the way.
Even a quick glance at the catalogue will confirm that you’re not exactly spoilt for choice where any of his recorded music is concerned. However, Hinrichs is clearly a most accomplished player from the technical standpoint, with a real empathy for music of this period. She boasts a fine ‘cantabile’ tone where needed, and a well-studied structural awareness. Moreover she has a keen sense of dynamic shading, and balance between the hands, ensuring voice lines are given appropriate importance, in whichever part of the piano’s register they occur.
The CD notes are first-rate, and have an added bonus in that the writer actually gives specific timings where points of special interest occur in the music. The notes appear first in German, followed by an English version, which does make for quite a small font overall. However they are still eminently readable and erudite. The translation is largely very good, and reads well, even if the occasional phrase still displays its Teutonic original. Note-names follow the American usage, where, for example, ‘semiquavers’ are ‘sixteenth-notes’, and ‘bars’ become ‘measures’, but this is hardly confusing. It also reflects German practice.
Eberl is definitely worth getting to know, and this disc is an ideal way to discover more about his music. If you then like what you hear, you will surely find the other CDs with some of his chamber and orchestral music with piano even more enticing. It is to be hoped that you’ll come to the opinion that Anton Franz Joseph Eberl is very much his own man, and not just another ‘lesser’ composer living in the shadow of his two far more celebrated contemporaries.
Highly attractive then – and with a delightfully apt painting of Tyrolean life on the front cover.
Philip R Buttall