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Jan Ladislav DUSSEK (1760-1812)
The Complete Piano Sonatas - Vol. 1
Full contents list at end of review
Maria Garzon (piano)
rec. Wigmore Hall, London, November 2006 (CD 1), September 2007 (CD 2), March 2008 (CD 3)
HERITAGE HTGCD300 [3 CDs: 66.00 + 78.03 + 73:31]

This is the first of two 3 CD volumes of the complete piano sonatas of Dussek. Maria Garzon is the first pianist to have recorded the entire cycle and Heritage should be congratulated for bringing these recordings into the catalogue.
 
The Spanish pianist Maria Garzon spent her childhood in Africa. She went to school in France and later studied music in Madrid, at the Salzburg Mozarteum and the universities of Lubeck and Cologne before moving to London where she made an acclaimed Wigmore Hall debut in 1996. As well as performing, Garzon was formerly Head of Piano Studies at Reading University. She has given master classes and lectures at the Royal Academy of Music, Morley College, London and as far away as the music conservatoires in Uralsk, Barbados and Beijing. She is clearly a pianist of some stature and her devotion to Dussek is to be applauded.
 
Jan Ladislav Dussek was a Czech contemporary of Mozart who composed forward-looking piano works which have traits that foreshadow Romanticism. His collaboration with John Broadwood in London was instrumental in the technical development of the piano. Dussek was a virtuoso pianist and during the time he spent in St. Petersburg he furthered his reputation as a composer and became a favourite of Catherine the Great. He was an innovator and pushed out the boundaries, far in advance of the piano sonatas composed by the likes of Clementi in the same era. Dussek’s exploratory style probably had an influence on Beethoven but his music isn’t anywhere near the stature of Beethoven’s piano works. However, there’s more to life than Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin in the world of piano music. This set of recordings offers a fascinating appraisal of a composer whose influence on future generations is only now becoming recognised and fully appreciated. Dussek has been largely ignored so this is a very good way of getting to hear his music and making a subjective judgement on its merits.
 
I would like to make some points about the recording quality. CD 1 in this collection sounds completely different to CDs 2 and 3. The sound captured on the opening CD is close and relatively dry. It is lacking in dynamic range with a shallow bass end that recalls some of those Vox piano recordings issued in the 1960s. It’s not a bad recording by any stretch of the imagination but it just doesn’t come over as being very glamorous. The piano tone doesn’t open up and it’s like sharing a piano stool with the soloist. This is a personal thing - it’s not the kind of sound that I particularly enjoy so please don’t be put off. The lack of dynamic range also makes the playing sound uniformly bland and the accents and right hand runs in the opening Op.23 Sonata appear clumsy, not in terms of wrong notes being played but in terms of lightness of touch, phrasing and lack of care with articulation. CDs 2 and 3 are a huge improvement, leading me to conclude that the playing on CD 1 isn’t uncaring or clumsy at all - it’s just a case of the close recording letting the pianist down with its lack of light and shade. It’s hard to believe that we have the same piano, pianist and recording venue. CDs 2 and 3 have an attractive glow, the piano is set further back and all of a sudden the seeming clumsiness on CD 1 is replaced by pianism that is perfectly articulated and musical with a proper dynamic range. Having contacted Heritage by email I am assured that volume 2, due for release shortly, shares the excellent characteristics of the second and third CDs in volume 1.
 
The music is thoroughly enjoyable but it’s not quite in the Beethoven/Mozart/Haydn league. Everything is well crafted and tuneful but there are no earth-shattering masterpieces to be heard. Anyone who has studied the piano at a basic level may well have come across the Dussek sonatinas. I still remember them with some fondness and the sheet music is still collecting dust in a cupboard next my piano to this day. The sonatas are very similar stylistically but more complicated technically. The sonatas and sonatinas do, however, share a couple of traits, namely good tunes and a mastery of writing for the instrument. There is an element of sameness about the music but that’s only apparent having listened to the best part of four hours’ worth of Dussek in a couple of sittings. In the real world nobody is going to do this and the set can be dipped in and out of for a couple of sonatas at a time. Don’t expect the drama of the Appassionata or the melodic genius of Chopin at his best but this is all easy on the ear and doesn’t deserve its neglect. If you enjoy the keyboard works of Clementi, Haydn and Mendelssohn you will like this. Maria Garzon clearly loves the music and that is very obvious from these recordings. It’s a fine set with generous playing times and I look forward to hearing volume 2.  

John Whitmore 

Full contents list

CD 1
Sonata Op. 23 in B Flat Major
1. Allegro con spirito 4:27
2. Pastorale. Allegro moderato con espressione 5:38
Sonata Op. 39 No. 2 in C Major
3. Allegro moderato 5:04
4. Andante quasi larghetto 2:15
5. Rondo - Allegretto 3:05
Sonata Op. 47 No. 1 in D Major
6. Allegro con spirito 4:16
7. Adagio 2:40
8. Rondo a la militare. Allegro moderato 4:19
Sonata Op. 77 in F Minor
9. Allegro moderato ma energico 7:33
10. Tempo di Minuetto 2:45
11. Adagio non troppo 5:38
12. Rondo - Allegro moderato 7:51
Sonata Op. 47 No. 2 in G Major
13. Allegro ma moderato ed espressivo 5:10
14. Rondo con espressivo - Andante con moto 4:07 

CD 2
Sonata Op. 45 No. 1 in B flat Major
1. Allegro cantabile 6:23
2. Adagio patetico 7:23
3. Allegro da Ballo 5:37
Sonata Op. 45 No. 2 in G Major
4. Larghetto sostenuto 7:58
5. Andantino con moto 5:59
Sonata Op. 45 No. 3 in D Major
6. Allegro moderato 6:07
7. Larghetto con moto 5:05
8. Rondo - Allegro moderato assai 4:45
Sonata Op. 44 in E flat Major
9. Introduzione - Allegro moderato 9:10
10. Molto adagio e sostenuto 8:51
11. Tempo di Minuetto piu tosto Allegro 2:40
12. Rondo - Allegro moderato ed espressivo 7:59

CD 3
Sonata Op. 9 No. 1 in B flat Major
1. Allegro non tanto 5:50
2. Rondo - Allegretto grazioso 5:02
Sonata Op. 10 No. 2 in G Minor
3. Grave - Adagio ma non troppo 6:28
4. Vivace con spirito 5:27
Sonata Op. 18 No. 2 in A Minor
5. Agitato assai 4:27
6. Rondo - Allegretto moderato 4:48
Sonata Op. 31 No. 2 in D Major
7. Allegro non tanto 3:56
8. Adagio con espressione 2:06
9. Allegro non troppo 4:52
Sonata Op. 43 in A Major
10. Allegro moderato con espressione 8:31
11. Rondo - Allegro 4:42
Sonata Op. 61 in F sharp Minor (Elegie harmonique sur la mort de son Altesse Royale le Prince Louis Ferdinand de Prusse)
12. Lento patetico - Tempo agitato 10:54
13. Tempo vivace e con fuoco quasi presto 6:26

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