Daniel STEIBELT (1765-1823)
Rondo Les Papillons (pub 1807) [8:39]
Fantaisie and Variations on two Russian themes (pub 1807) [17:05]
Piano Sonata in G major, Op.64 (pub 1806) [41:32]
Anna Petrova-Forster (piano)
rec. February-March 2015 private studio, Pfäffikon, Switzerland

I wrote a sliver about Daniel Steibelt in reviewing a remarkably vivid battle-orientated twofer from Forgotten Records (review) a couple of years ago. The label is clearly keen to promote the music of this now nearly-forgotten composer because that release – which also included music by Dussek, Moscheles and others very much more obscure like Jadin and Ruppe – has been followed by this one, which is dedicated solely to the Berlin-born composer. I can wholeheartedly recommend the extensive booklet note in this release, in French and English, as it goes into very useful biographical detail about him. The most famous anecdote, which relates to the infamous pianistic duel between Steibelt and Beethoven in Vienna in the spring of 1800, is pursued down its rabbit-hole to interesting effect.

There are four works on this disc which was issued in 2015 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth. The Rondo Les Papillons dates from around 1807 and is a deliciously elegant piece, its roulades both confident and delicate, and full of fluttering grace. Steibelt naturally favours the treble in his airy sonorities. It serves as an entrée to the wider span of the Fantasie and Variations on two Russian themes which brings operatic panache to the salon in a series of extensively vocalised themes – witty, jovial, engaging, and somewhat generic. L’Orage is his most famous work – famous these days must be a relative word given the obscurity into which he has sunk – and shows the full range of his salon insinuations and his command of musical elegance. Given its nine-minute length it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

The biggest and grandest work in this recital, though, is clearly the Sonata in G major, published in 1806. It has a Beethovenian-sized first movement which, in this performance, clocks in at nineteen-minutes. However, its non-classical form and its many moments of felicitous beauty ensure that it’s never a chore to listen to, despite its overlong stretches and moments of repetition. This is the most impressive example of Steibelt’s gift – a capacity to fuse unorthodox structure with lyric reverie, and to conjoin vocalised warmth with salon-like diffusiveness. Sometimes the last-named element is too vaporous, but at its finest it’s music of thoughtful warmth and instinctual elegance. The Minuet is amiable with a brief contrastive section whilst the slow movement is a fantasie, subtly coloured and full of tremolandi if also somewhat archly decorative in places. The Allegretto finale confounds expectations once more. If one expected heroism one gets instead a Pastorale, an agency for more vocalism and Arcadian warmth.

Throughout, the Russian-born, Bulgarian-raised Anna Petrova-Forster plays with sensitivity and stylistic awareness. If there were moments where the piano sound is a touch too hard, that’s no doubt a studio question. She certainly makes a strong case for Steibelt in this intriguing release.

Jonathan Woolf