These first recordings constitute the third volume in Israeli-American keyboardist extraordinaire Michael Tsalka's traversal of Daniel Gottlob Türk's 48 published keyboard sonatas using his own new critical edition. Eighteen remain for future volumes, following two double-disc sets released by Grand Piano within the last year or so (see review).
Tsalka once more performs on a selection of valuable historical instruments, something of a trademark of his. For the earlier volumes he went to America's National Music Museum in South Dakota. Here he is in New York, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he makes good use of a 1763 clavichord, two 1790s grand pianos and a fortepiano from c.1838. Full details are given in the booklet by one of the Museum's curators, including a justification for the slight anachronism of this latter instrument, information on an unusual feature of the clavichord - its intriguingly named 'pantal(e)on' stop - and the thirteen-pedal pianoforte made by Johann Schmidt, enhanced by a so-called 'bassoon' stop actually made of parchment.
In part owing to the fact that his oeuvre was small, Türk is barely known as a composer of art music, but his name will certainly be familiar to amateur pianists and their teachers, borne at the head of many easy keyboard pieces taken from his pedagogic collections of miniatures, the Handstücke and Tonstücke 'für angehende Klavierspieler'. His title for the present collection is 'Sonatas Chiefly for Connoisseurs', this in contradistinction to the previously recorded 'Easy Sonatas' (GP 629-30), several movements of which "connoisseurs will probably want to ignore".
Tsalka for his part notes that "compared to grand sonatas composed specifically for the grand piano and the concert hall by slightly later composers such as Beethoven and Clementi, Türk's affective musical gestures appear limited." On the other hand, he was a highly regarded teacher, performer and composer far and wide and, for his time, undeniably forward-looking. Tsalka quotes tellingly from Türk's Klavierschule, published around the same time as the 'Connoisseur' Sonatas: "Every emotion and passion can be expressed in [this genre]. For the more expressive a sonata is, the more the composer can be heard."
Cue music that is on the one hand pedagogic - virtuosic, forensic, inquisitory - and on the other, entertaining, with melodic, rhythmic and dynamic colour and contrast on every page, and indeed Sturm und Drang intensity on several. The Sonatas range from a Beethovenian No.1 to a Mozartian No.6 - the latter's middle movement even briefly quoting 'Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen'. In between, intimations and inklings of influences absorbed from C.P.E. Bach, Joseph Haydn and Türk's friend and teacher J.A. Hiller.
The marvellous authenticity of Tsalka's intimately expressive yet deeply intellectual performances here are a compelling testimony to an unjustly forgotten polymath. A further attraction of this cycle is that it constitutes pretty much the entirety of Türk's recorded works - with numerous cantatas and at least six symphonies lost, there remain beyond the keyboard items only a few songs and cantatas extant.
The trilingual booklet provides as much well-written detail as anyone could wish for. Tsalka refers to Sonata no.6 twice in his notes as 'Sinfonia', presumably inadvertently, as he draws attention to certain symphonic elements in its score. The recent Grand Piano recording of Alexandra Oehler playing Teresa Carreño (GP 660) dispensed with the Gro Thorsen cover art that has featured on virtually all the label's releases to date, but for this one it is 'as you were' - good news for collectors, if not to everyone's taste.
Sound quality is good as usual, with the caveat that these venerable instruments have mechanisms that can squeak and rattle a bit. Tsalka also hums quietly along at times, but who can blame him? Incidentally, his clavichord recording of J.S. Bach's 'Goldberg' Variations for Paladino was one of the most exquisite releases of 2013 - see review.
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