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Leopold KOŽELUCH (1747-1818)
Complete Keyboard Sonatas - Vol. 3
Piano Sonata in C major, Op. 8, No. 1, P. XII:5 (1784) [18:03]
Piano Sonata in F major, Op. 8, No. 2, P. XII:4 (1784) [23:50]
Piano Sonata in E flat major, Op. 10, No. 1, P. XII:15 (1784) [18:04]
Kemp English (fortepiano - modern copy of an Anton Walter c. 1795)
rec. 25-29 April 2011, Mobbs Early Keyboard Collection, Golden Bay, New Zealand
world première recordings
GRAND PIANO GP644 [59:57]

The Grand Piano discs I’ve reviewed have impressed me greatly. Among them is a set of music for piano duet and duo by Florent Schmitt (review). Out-of-the-way repertoire well played and recorded is always worth a shot, especially when it’s as well presented, as GP issues invariably are. What’s more these are world première recordings; also, the these sonatas are played on a modern copy of an 18th-century fortepiano, which enhances the artistic credentials of this unfolding series. As for our keyboard artist, New Zealander Kemp English, he’s new to me; I’m not sure how I’ve missed him, for he seems to be much in demand both at home and abroad.

Leopold Koželuch, born north of Prague, relocated to Vienna in the 1770s. Given the city’s artistic ferment at the time that was a shrewd move. However, as a contemporary of Mozart he was destined to be overshadowed by the younger man’s prodigious talents. Listening to these sonatas – all of which date from 1784 – it’s clear that Koželuch was a tunesmith of some skill. True, the pieces are more about fashion than feeling, but who cares when they’re played with such precision and good taste?

After recalibrating one’s ears for the light, clear-as-a-bell timbres of the fortepiano it’s very easy to engage with this lovely, effervescent music. Perhaps the first movement of the C major sonata relies a little too heavily on those recurrent runs, but what the piece might lack in invention it more than makes up for in spontaneity and sparkle. The slow movement – marked Adagio cantabile – certainly has a lovely singing line. English delivers a finely turned performance, and the recording strikes a good balance between clarity and warmth.

That said, the fortepiano doesn’t command the sonorous bass of the modern piano, so the emphasis here is more on articulation than body. Just sample the trills of the alternative Rondo (tr. 4); in this artist’s capable hands they are an absolute joy, resonating in the mind long after the notes have faded. Those who cleave to the Haydn and Mozart sonatas may find Koželuch too frothy for their tastes. These sonatas don't pretend to be profound utterances, so just enjoy them for what they are - good-natured, smile-inducing pieces that set out to entertain.

The F major sonata offers more of the same, albeit with an unexpectedly reposeful air to the Poco adagio. English springs rhythms most beautifully and his phrasing is meticulous without ever sounding mechanical. The fortepiano only struggles in the loudest passages, where its tone becomes a little pinched. As this isn’t music of extremes that’s rarely an issue. Longueurs? Only in the alternative Aria con variatione (tr. 8) does one become aware of mere note-spinning; in any case I wouldn’t suggest you audition this disc in one sitting, for the charms of this music are best appreciated in small doses.

The E flat major sonata has a crackle of energy that’s bound to revive even the droopiest of spirits. Happily the recording, although crystal clear, never threatens to become fatiguing. Alas, that's not always a given in coruscating fare such as this. It really is about preening pianism - in the best sense; what better vehicle for a keyboard artist who’s described on his website as ‘an exuberant entertainer’?

Delightful music, essayed with clarity and elegance; and there's lots more to come.

Dan Morgan