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Jan Hugo VOŘÍŠEK (1791-1825)
Complete Works for Piano - Vol.1
Six Impromptus, Op.7 [45:58]
Fantasy in C Major, Op.12 [13:00]
Sonata quasi una fantasia in B flat minor, Op.20 [21:48]
Biljana Urban (piano)
rec. Vredenburg Leeuwenbergh, Utrecht, Netherlands, 15-16 July 2013.
GRAND PIANO GP670 [78:48]

Grand Piano continues in its admirable mission to reveal little known corners of the solo piano repertoire with this first volume of Voříšek’s complete piano works. I first came upon his name and music when I spent four years in Prague in the 1970s and was absolutely amazed to discover that the lands of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia were awash with musical talent in the 17th and 18th centuries in particular. Fascinating names like Vejvanovský, Biber, Brixi, Tuma, Černohorsky, Stamic, Benda, Dušek, Mysliveček, Rossetti, Vanhal, Družecký, Mašek, Vranický, Krommer, Zelenka, Rejcha, Hummel and many more became known to me with increasing wonder. In fact I well remember a friend alleging that I was making these names up since he had never heard of any of them.
Voříšek was one of those highly talented and intelligent people who had several strings to their bow studying philosophy, aesthetics, mathematics and law. He completed his law studies in 1821 and gained employment as barrister to the Court Military Privy Councillor, drawing up legal documents. However, already a successful pianist in Prague, he began performing publicly from the age of nine. It was music he wished to devote himself to and finally in 1822 he was appointed as second court organist rising to first organist two years later. Though he thought highly of Mozart he was naturally more drawn to the emerging romantic tradition personified by Beethoven. He was dying to meet him and eventually did in 1814 in Vienna where he also became great friends with Schubert. He became a successful composer of orchestral, vocal and piano music. It was his publisher who, in 1817, first coined the term impromptu to describe one of his pieces and which his friend Schubert also used for his own works of a similar nature. His Op. 7 set, which appear on this disc, was composed in 1822. It is his last and most important set of such pieces. They are absolutely beguiling with the most disarmingly charming and delightful tunes which, with their simple lines, are catchy and totally memorable.
As noted in the brochure Voříšek’s Fantasy in C Major, Op.12 owes its inspiration to a similar work by Jan Nepomuk Hummel with whom he became friends in Vienna along with Spohr and Moscheles. Also noted is the composer’s close attention to examples by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven though ultimately it is Voříšek’s own original musical view that stamps itself on the work. It is said that the two movements started out as improvisations but that will come as no surprise when you learn that along with Schubert Voříšek was one of the fifty composers who contributed a variation on the waltz theme by Anton Diabelli that caused Beethoven’s brilliant set of 33, op.120 to be written. However, a somewhat sour note enters into Allan Badley’s notes inasmuch as he writes that there are some musical clichés in this work that say more about Voříšek’s efforts to carve out a career as pianist than his ability to become a master composer. That’s as maybe but there can be no denying that it is above all a supremely satisfying work of considerable beauty with some lovely touches and a sunny air that lifts the spirit.
The disc finishes with Voříšek’s Sonata quasi una fantasia in B flat minor, a mature work in comparison with the rest of the music and one that he was apparently revising, a process he was still trying to complete at the time of his early death from tuberculosis at 34. It is one of his most accomplished works that says as much about his pianistic skills as it does about his abilities as a composer.
Croatian pianist Biljana Urban drew her influences from such pianists as Elisso Virsaladze and Tatiana Nikolayeva. She plays all this music extremely well and with obvious reverence combining a deftness of touch with impeccable pacing. She has rivals for this repertoire, particularly in the case of the impromptus, from the likes of David Gross, Artur Pizarro and Radoslav Kvapil but this is a well played and well recorded disc. Any fan of piano music from the early nineteenth century will find much to admire here.
Steve Arloff