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
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
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.