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Leopold KOŽELUCH (1747-1818)
Complete Keyboard Piano Sonatas - Volume 8
No. 29 in G, Op. 30/2, P. XII:30 (1789) [16:10]
No. 30 in C minor, Op. 30/3, P. XII:31 (1789) [16:40]
No. 31 in F, Op. 35/1, P. XII:32 (1791) [16:52]
No. 32 in A, Op. 35/2, P. XII:33 (1791) [19:25]
Kemp English (fortepiano)
rec. Mobbs Early Keyboard Collection, Golden Bay, New Zealand, August 5-10, 2012
GRAND PIANO GP732 [69:07]

This is my first encounter with Leopold Koželuch for about 35 years. I knew him through an old Erato gatefold LP of his Sinfonia concertante for the unlikely but actually striking and highly successful combination of mandolin, trumpet, piano and double-bass, plus orchestra (STU71305; I Solisti Veneti conducted by Claudio Scimone). I remember it delighted me although sadly memories of the Concerto for Piano Duet and Orchestra coupling remain out of reach.

The “P” numbers used in the review heading were actually determined as far back as 1964 and refer to a catalogue of Koželuch’s works by Milan Poštolka. The booklet notes tell us his name means “tanner” of leather. Koželuch founded his own publishing firm, which of course guaranteed the publication of his own works (hence the opus numbers). Born northwest of Prague in 1747, he moved to Vienna in the late 1770s, a place which suited him well: as Kemp English says, he “found himself in the right place at the right time.”

English plays on a simply superb, bright sounding fortepiano by fellow New Zealander Paul Downie after an Anton Walter of c1795. The ordering of sonatas follows that of the new Bärenreiter edition of Koželuch’s works edited by Christopher Hogwood, no less. English was part of the proofreading team of that project; in addition, he was awarded a doctorate from the University of Adelaide for his work on Koželuch.

The Sonata in G begins full of amiable vim. It exudes joy, with throwaway gestures delivered with a perfect sense of play by English. The slow movement is brief (less than a page and a half of music) yet in its sighing gestures it seems to point towards Beethoven. It ends on a tranquil question mark. The finale is a Rondeau but finds drama within that rather gallant title. There is much more drama in the C minor Sonata. There are only two movements here, but the first is just a touch under eleven minutes (Largo-Allegro-Largo). The Largo is French Overture-influenced, grand and imposing while the central Allegro is fluent in a rather Beethovenian, determined manner.

No. 31, in F major, dates from two years later. Textures are fuller - thanks to English’s exemplary performance, they are not crowded - and harmonies are a tad more sophisticated. The central Adagio is a florid thing of beauty; there is a decided vocal undercurrent to the right-hand lines. Dissonances are deliciously underlined by English, colouring the argument splendidly. The finale is full of grace.

Finally, No. 32 in A major is the most expansive piece on the disc, coming in at 19:25. Certainly the first movement has a sophistication about it coupled with passages of Mozartian exuberance; the slow movement manages depth as well as elegance in its four or so minutes before the Rondo, with its teasing theme, sets off with a confidence that never lets up. The flourish at around 2:40 is a great gesture; the ensuing interiorisation into minor-mode territory provides requisite contrast.

Kemp English’s own booklet notes of course ooze the understandable missionary zeal of one absolutely committed to his cause; they are also learned and helpful in the process.

Several previous volumes have been reviewed on MusicWeb International: Volume 3, Volume 4, Volume 5, Volume 6 & Volume 7. All recordings on the present disc are world premieres.

We should not forget, perhaps, that Toscanini himself found Koželuch interesting enough to perform a couple of movements from the Second String Quartet with his New York orchestra on March 15, 1935. And word on the bulletin boards of record collectors has it that the string quartets are treasurable, too, although recordings remain elusive. All the more reason to celebrate this joyous release.

Colin Clarke



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