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Josef MYSLIVEČEK (1737-1781)
Complete Music for Keyboard
Keyboard Concertos No. 1 in B flat [9:55], No. 2 in F [13:54] (late 1770s?)
Six Divertimenti (1777) [16:01]
Six Easy Lessons (1780) [35:44]
Clare Hammond (piano)
Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Nicolas McGegan
rec. Örebro Concert Hall, Sweden, 2018
BIS SACD BIS2393 [76:18]

It seems a long time since I have reviewed any Mysliveček, and so it transpires: 2006, in fact, his La Passione di Nostro Signor Gesu Christo (composed around 1770) on the Capriccio label (review). It is a delight and a pleasure to return to his beautifully crafted output, this time in the hands of Clare Hammond and BIS. We not only get the composer’s complete keyboard output neatly in one place, expertly performed, but can hear the world premiere recording of his Second Piano Concerto.

The First Concerto has never been published. Clare Hammond has made her own editions of these works from autograph manuscripts at the Bibliothèque National de France. She toured the Concerto in Poland in 2016. (That was not actually the modern premiere: there was a recording in the 1970s with Anastasia Braudo and the Leningrad Chamber Orchestra, re-released on a hard-to-find compact disc under the series heading “Outstanding Musicians of St Petersburg”, volume two of “Archival Recordings of Anastasia Braudo”.) The performance with Hammond and McGegan is wonderful, clean-cut – think J. C. Bach clean-cut – and it includes some notably tricky flourishes for the soloist. One can see why this composer is sometimes seen as a bridge to Mozart, and one must also acknowledge that he acted as a stylistic model for Mozart. Designated as for “cembalo”, it is likely that Mysliveček’s concertos were intended for fortepiano because of the dynamic markings in the keyboard part. After the bracing first movement, there is an Andantino, songful yet still fresh of demeanor; it finds Hammond pitching her Steinway’s voice perfectly against muted violins and pizzicato lower strings. Eloquence really is the watchword here. A happy rondo concludes the work, wherein Hammond’s beautifully neat way with the musical surface does it full service. A brief but charmingly amusing cadenza adds a touch of humour.

The Second Concerto was actually published, by Boosey & Hawkes in 1964. It is a little more ambitious than the first (fourteen minutes as opposed to nine); its expanded cadenza reflecting this. There is no mention in the booklet of who composed the cadenzas, unfortunately. As MS scores to both of the concertos are available on IMSLP and both show simply a pause at the relevant point, one assumes they are by Hammond. The central Larghetto explores significantly deeper territory than anywhere else on the disc, its delicious slips into the minor mode thereby doubly effective. The work ends with a breezy, yet strong-of-character minuet complete with several Trios. Again, Hammond’s touch is perfectly judged throughout, and accompaniments by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and McGegan are stylish and light.

The Six Divertimenti and the Six Easy Lessons were both clearly designed for amateurs, but both have charm aplenty. The Divertimenti for Harpsichord or Piano, to give the full title, was published by the ABRSM in 1983 so may be familiar to many readers, although the 1784 Coreti & Sutherland edition was used here. Not many, though, will have played them as beautifully as Hammond, who cherishes each like a little jewel. No token recording gesture this, the Divertimenti unfold with perfect ease. Some contrast appears with the Andantino fourth Divertimento, where it is easy to imagine a pair of winds delivering the right-hand’s line, a-piping pastorally. Fitting the set ends with a restrained Andantino, mirroring the opening movement’s tempo designation.

The duration of the Six Easy Lessons (actually a set of six sonatas) comes as something of a shock: over 35 minutes. Each Sonata is cast in two movements, generally quick first and then a Minuetto (in four out of the six). No. 4 begins with an Andantino, with a minuet as its partner. More substantive than the Divertimenti, yet sharing with them a sense of jewel-like construction, they are a joy. Hammond’s own joy in performing them, in presenting them to us, shines through. Her nimbleness is called upon particularly in the Third Sonata. Its companion Minuetto is almost a slow movement, and markedly lachrymose which seems to be a half-brother to the restrained Andantino that opens the Fourth Sonata. Although not given a tempo marking, No. 5’s first movement seems some sort of relative to the busy atmosphere of Mozart’s Figaro. The final minuet of the final sonata is actually the basis of a set of six variations, which themselves could be a lost set of early Mozart.

The ever-enterprising Toccata Classics label has done some sterling work for the Mysliveček cause, and there is a lovely disc of symphonies on Chandos by Bamert and the London Mozart Players; but we, of course, should be grateful for Hammond’s work here. She is a questing artist. I particularly enjoyed her disc of Etudes, also on BIS (here).

Hammond’s Mysliveček is as refreshing as a well-timed sorbet.

Colin Clarke

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