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Leopold KOŽELUCH (1747-1818)
Complete Keyboard Sonatas – Volume 6
Piano Sonata No 21 in E flat major, Op 17 No 3, P. XII: 22 (1785) [15:28]
Piano Sonata No 22 in F major, Op 20 No 1, P. XII: 23 (1786) [12:07]
Piano Sonata No 23 in C major, Op 20 No 2, P. XII: 24 (1796) [13:32]
Piano Sonata No 24 in D minor, Op 20 No 3, P. XII: 25 (1786) [13:15]
Kemp English (fortepiano)
World Premiere Recordings except No. 24
rec. 20-26 April 2012, Mobbs Early Keyboard Collection, Golden Bay, New Zealand
GRAND PIANO GP647 [54:22]

I previously had the opportunity to review the four sonatas featured in Volume 5 of this series, and included at the time a fair amount of general background, both on the composer and the sonatas as a whole.

Volume 6 contains four more sonatas from 1785-1786, three of which are world-premiere recordings this time. As with the previous volume, virtuosity once more rubs shoulders with drama and elegance. The CD begins with the Sonata No 21 in E flat major, the third and final one from the Op 17 set which, like its two predecessors on the previous CD, is a two-movement work. There is a business-like brisk Allegro, where much of the figuration heard could equally have come from Koželuch’s contemporary, Mozart. In his informative sleeve-notes, Kemp English specifically alludes to various perceived similarities here between the two composers, but this is, of course, no surprise, and it would equally be possible to find similar examples from Haydn and early Beethoven. Taking this to its logical – or rather, illogical conclusion – the coda theme of Koželuch’s Allegro is very reminiscent of the same section in the finale of Beethoven’s Sonata in F, Op 10 No 2, which had yet to be written! The development proceeds conventionally enough, though it spends most of its time in the minor key, working out material from this closing theme, before the recapitulation returns us to the home key, with a pleasantly extended close. The second movement, Rondeau: Allegretto, is again suggestive of another Beethoven melody – the final major section from his Choral Fantasia, which again didn’t appear until some twenty years later. The theme is gentle and expressive, while the first episode is more agitated, and has far greater impetus from the triplets used. The second episode again picks up on the triplet figuration, and is largely in the minor key. It provides welcome contrast, not only by way of its tonality, but also its extended length. Triplets also make another brief appearance in the closing bars.

The rest of the CD is devoted to the three sonatas from Op 20, written a year later. These are now all fully-fledged three movement works, still ending in a Rondeau: Allegretto, but now preceded by a fast and slow movement respectively. Sonata No 22 in F, Op 20 No 1 opens with a brisk Allegro in triple time, and, the first thing that strikes the listener is that, as was the case on the previous CD, English has now changed instruments for the new opus number. He uses two replica fortepianos – a Downie, with a distinctive bright tone for the single Op 17 work, and the mellower Wolf for Op 20. There is no customary repeat of the opening exposition this time, and the music launches straightaway into the development section, with quite an abrupt key change into the minor. The original thematic material is subject to some significant development and manipulation, after which the listener is tricked into thinking the recapitulation has started – only then to realise that this was not in the home key, and that the composer has delayed the process by a few bars – indeed a recapitulation starting in the subdominant wasn’t unusual in some of Schubert’s sonata-form movements, and Mozart did this, too, in his C major Sonata, K545. There now follows a true slow movement – a lyrical Adagio in the subdominant key of B flat, in ternary form (A-B-A), and a short coda over a tonic pedal – shifting harmonies anchored here above repeated B flats in the bass. The finale is a jolly number with a two-in-a-bar 6/8 feel to it. On this occasion Koželuch uses just a single, slightly-extended episode in the subdominant key, rather than the two episodes of its predecessor. Perhaps he now felt that, moving to a three-movement structure, a single episode would suffice in terms of maintaining overall balance.

Sonata No 23 in C opens brightly with a fanfare-like theme and, on this occasion, the exposition is repeated. As we have seen before, when the composer begins the development, he is not afraid to plunge in with a different key, and this quite often in the opposite tonality. Koželuch does that here, but very soon shifts a semitone higher and continues to develop his thematic material. This semitone shift became quite commonplace – Beethoven uses it briefly in the finale of his ‘Emperor’ Piano Concerto, and, writing later in the nineteenth century, Chopin featured it on more than one occasion. Otherwise the development progresses here in an orderly fashion, leading back to the recapitulation, which, too, has no surprises in store. As in the previous sonata, the slow movement is another simple, untroubled piece in ternary form, save for some slightly darker minor colours towards the end of the middle section. The finale is based on a catchy little tune set against a descending bass-line, sometimes in broken octaves. In the extended first episode there is some contrapuntal writing, where the composer shifts the melody over to the left hand, against triplets in the right. The kind of upward semitone shift seen in the opening movements appears somewhat more frequently here, adding to the excitement as the music rushes towards its close. Even the main theme makes an almost complete appearance in E flat, before the closing statements, where again the composer shows his hand in writing more contrapuntally, giving greater prominence at times to the left hand.

The last sonata on the present CD is in a minor key. Koželuch had written sonatas in minor keys before, but this is the first one in D minor – a key which had special meaning particularly for Mozart, whose Piano Concerto in that key, K466, had appeared only the year before in 1785. Sonata No 24 in D minor opens with a quite stately subject – here the tempo marking is Moderato, rather than the Allegro of its two predecessors. The exposition is repeated and there is much more pathos in the writing than before. The second subject which eventually appears in the more conventional key of F major – the relative major of D minor – is first given in the tonic minor (F minor), not entirely unheard of, but somewhat novel at the time. The development that follows investigates a fair deal of the thematic material that has gone before, and leads seamlessly into the recapitulation. Virtuosity and drama are high on the agenda here. The short slow movement, in the tonic major (D), is an attractive model of calm – with a slightly-faster tempo marking than those in Nos 22 and 23, but still providing an effective point of contrast. The finale, once more cast in a duple-time 6/8, is essentially light-hearted, despite its minor key setting. The composer once more returns to the conventional rondo format (ABACA), where A is the main theme, and B and C two contrasting episodes in nearly-related keys, on this occasion the relative major, F, and the tonic major, D, respectively, where the tranquil and consoling environment, provides an appropriate foil for the final rondo-theme appearance, and then Koželuch’s dramatic and exciting end to arguably the most engaging work of the current volume..

Philip R Buttall

 

 




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