Daniel STEIBELT (1765-1823)
Rondo ‘Les Papillons’ [8:39]
Fantaisie and Variations on two Russian themes [17:05]
Piano Sonata in G major, Op.64 [41:32]
Rondo ‘L’Orage’ [9:02]
Anna Petrova-Forster (piano)
rec. 28 February-2 March 2015
private studio, Pfäffikon, Switzerland

Credit must be given to the Russian-born pianist Anna Petrova-Forster for her enthusiastic and potent advocacy of the little-known German composer Daniel Steibelt. Up until receiving this CD, I had never come across his name. Not much of his music has been recorded, but a few years ago the Bulgarian label Gega issued a CD of solo piano music, consisting of two sonatas, some etudes and a concerto for solo piano, again featuring this pianist. It is still available. Hyperion have also been in on the act with a volume of three of his piano concertos in their ‘Classical Piano Concerto’ series, played by Howard Shelley, who also directs the Ulster Orchestra (review). This latest release from Forgotten Records is timed to coincide with the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth.

Steibelt was born in Berlin of a German father who manufactured keyboards and a French mother. He studied composition with Johann Kirnberger (1721-1783). He made his mark as a travelling virtuoso, touring the cities of Europe and ending up in St. Petersburg, where he died. Along the way he composed operas, ballets, concertos, chamber and instrumental music and solo piano music. Much of it has faded into obscurity, and of the facts about his life, the notorious piano duel he had with Beethoven in Vienna in 1800 has gained a certain amount of anecdotal mileage.

Of the four works featured here the most substantial is the G major Sonata, Op. 64, which boasts an eighteen minute opening movement, marked ‘Cantabile’. Its character is notably operatic, and ends with an impressive cadenza, calling upon the virtuosic skills of the performer. A brief three minute Tempo di minuetto precedes a lengthy Adagio which has an improvisatory feel. A graceful Pastorale closes the work. The Fantaisie and Variations on two Russian themes, another large-scale piece, gives the pianist an opportunity to showcase not only her manual dexterity, but her imagination in characterizing the florid and coruscating variations.

Two shorter works bookend the disc. Rondo ‘Les Papillons’ evokes the delicate flutterings of butterflies. Petrova-Forster’s glistening, diaphanous finger-work is superbly executed. The easy-going lyrical disposition and cascading notes of Rondo ‘L’Orage’ are probably an indication of the popularity of the piece and its success during the composer’s lifetime.

The Steinway piano used has been expertly voiced and has a warm, radiant tone. The acoustic of the Swiss studio confers an ambience of intimacy. I must commend Olivier Feignier on his well-written, detailed annotations, here supplied in French and English.

Having listened to the recording several times, I cannot share the enthusiasm of John France in his Hyperion review or Jonathan Woolf, who has also reviewed this particular CD. I find Steibelt’s music generally unmemorable and musically verbose at times. I share Mr France's sentiments when he speaks of the music as ‘dominated by note-spinning’. The music of Ferdinand Ries, a near contemporary, has a similar effect on me.

Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf