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Anton EBERL (1765-1807)
Concerto for Two Pianos & Orchestra, op. 45 (1803) [27:05]
Sonata for Piano Four Hands, op. 7 No. 1 (1797) [12:19]
Sonata for Piano Four Hands, op. 7 No. 2 (1797) [18:55]
Paolo Giacometti, Riko Fukuda (fortepiano)
Kölner Akademie/Michael Alexander Willens
rec. 2008/11, Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Köln, Germany
CPO 777 733-2 [58:20]

Anton Eberl was a busy contributor to the musical life of Viennese high classicism. His compositions were sometimes confused with music written by his friend, Mozart. Eberl even posted a newspaper notice correcting the mistaken idea that his deceased friend had written Eberl’s C minor piano sonata. Eberl’s E flat major symphony appeared on the same program in 1805 that saw the premiere of Beethoven’s Eroica symphony, and was better received. Eberl died at 41, which may be why he is not better known.

This concerto for two pianos is a splendid piece, here presented in fine performances by Paolo Giacometti and Riko Fukuda. It is not so glorious as Mozart’s 1779 Concerto for two pianos (K.365), but is pretty darned good. The work reflects the militarist era of the Napoleonic wars, replete with trumpet calls and march-like themes. But Eberl’s sense of humor and his obvious joy in antiphonal play with runs and trills keeps the work from being too serious. An extended cadenza in the first movement is particularly exciting. Unusually, the middle movement is a march, with only winds in accompaniment, creating a kind of ‘non piu andrai’ militarism, just short of toy soldiers on parade. In compensation for the missing andante, Eberl opens the final rondo with a slow introduction before launching into a movement that is sometimes frothy and sometimes fiery, including a Janissary episode before the end. This confident and often humorous work is a little formulaic and was a bit old-fashioned in its time, but the formula it follows is an excellent one.
Michael Alexander Willens leads the Kölner Akademie (18 strings and 11 winds plus tympani) with energy and responsiveness to the soloists. The performance features some wonderful sonorities, never harsh, but not smoothed by romanticism. The pianos are well-matched, yet distinctive (one is brighter, the other gentler). This recording follows an appealing CPO disc of two Eberl solo piano concertos played by the same musicians.

Eberl composed the two sonatas in 1797 in St. Petersburg. They less grand than the Double Concerto, but highly enjoyable. The music is busy and eventful, but not military. Sonata 1 is vigorous and joyful, moving assuredly through dramatic moments. A whisp of an andantino leads to a bouncy rondo. In contrast, Sonata 2 seems a well-mannered affair, but it is still playful, and with brilliant antiphony. In both works, Giacometti and Fukuda sound as if they are enjoying the opportunities for display in this music’s many flourishes. Their playing is crisp and each pianist is highly responsive to the other.

This recording of Eberl’s Double Concerto should appeal if you enjoy looking beyond the Haydn-Mozart-Beethoven trio of Viennese classicism. The performances are both vibrant and technically self-assured, and revel in the drama inherent in duo piano music.

Richard Kraus

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