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Jan Ladislav DUSSEK (1760-1812)
Piano Music
Douze Études mélodiques, Op.16 (c.1794) [44:36]
Fantaisie in F major, Op.76 (1811) [28:36]
Vincenzo Paolini (piano)
rec. 2013, Teatro La Fenice, Amandola, Ascoli Piceno

Toccata’s blurb rather cleverly calls Jan Ladislav Dussek’s Douze Études mélodiques – also published as the Leçons progressives - ‘a sort of musical United Nations of the day … designed to appeal to the contemporary fashion for the exotic.’ Though they may sound mere technical exercises the Études, which date from 1794 when the Bohemian-born composer was happily ensconced in London, contain some substantial technical and expressive demands. The work enshrines a raft of national music - Polish, Russian, Scottish, Spanish and Turkish among them. In the first, an Allegro non troppo, it sometimes feels as if Vincenzo Paolini is almost breathlessly enunciating the music’s vitality, albeit the results are sparkling and full of life. Similarly I wondered if he maintained a true Andante sostenuto in the second where the music sometimes seems to drag - or whether my conception was more at fault. Having listened several times I’m still not sure. It’s noticeable that where an Étude has both fast and slow elements, as in the case of the fourth, he plays the slow very slowly and the faster passages very quickly. What’s not to be doubted is the rollicking bravado with which he bests the alla Turca elements of No.3 or the fluent Beethovenian quality of the seventh. No.8 is a charming English air and variations, whilst there’s a Scotch snap in the ninth. The set ends with a piece of vigorous Iberian vigour.

The Études are making their first-ever appearance on disc, whereas the companion Fantaisie in F major has been recorded before. By 1811 the peripatetic Dussek was living in Paris, and nearing the end of his life. The Fantaisie was one of several large-scale pieces he wrote during these final years. Hummel might well be a precedent for a work that sites its occasionally discursive moments within a firm structure. Very helpfully, as it often does, Toccata has separately tracked the various structural moments through which this half-hour work journeys, starting with its Grave introduction and ending with a Polacca. The play of light and darker elements is noticeable, and moments too where a kind of musical bipolarity seems to overtake him, and nobility is brought up against buffo-like paragraphs.

There are fine notes by Rohan H. Stewart-MacDonald. The recording is just a touch hard.

Dussek’s oeuvre well deserves disinterring. For all its seeming looseness the Fantaisie is harmonically diverting and has an attractive freedom of expression, whilst the Études can’t help providing entertainment.

Jonathan Woolf



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