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Johann Joseph RÖSLER (1771-1812)
Piano Concerto in E flat major (1803) [30:52]
Symphony in C major (1805) [26:39]
Alena Hönigová (fortepiano)
Orchester Eisenberg/Jiří Sycha
rec. 2018, Church of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary, Knětnov, Czech Republic

Rösler was born in Bohemia, and spent most of his working life as composer, pianist and Kapellmeister in Prague and Vienna. He is not related to Anton Rössler (Rosetti) whose works have had a few outings in the last decade or so. Our Rösler gained two prestigious postings in Vienna in the first decade of the nineteenth century, Kapellmeister at the Court Theatre, and then in the service of Prince Lobkowitz, who was one of Beethoven’s patrons. He wrote more than 200 works in his short life, which was cut short by tuberculosis.

As far as I can tell, these are the first orchestral works of Rösler’s to be recorded, though the label makes no claims of premiere recordings. Since the works have only been discovered and authenticated in the last few years, I think we can safely say that they are. It won’t come as any surprise that there are hints of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, but Rösler has his own voice, and both works are very enjoyable, particularly the symphony. They compare well to those by Stamitz, Vanhal and Dittersdorf, for example. I have certainly heard concertos of the era that make greater demands on the soloist – for example, Beethoven’s first two which Rösler apparently heard performed in Prague. The symphony has a good deal of rustic charm, and perhaps owes most to Haydn.

Those interested in the byways of music from this period will certainly be intrigued by this release, and the main stumbling block for some will be the use of the fortepiano. I appreciate that it was the premier keyboard instrument of the second half of the eighteenth century - that doesn’t alter my feeling that its sound combines the worst of its predecessor and successor. The instrument used here is a copy of an 1805 Anton Walter, and is very, very jangly. Some will find it just too off-putting; I managed to stay the distance - only just in places - and appreciated the orchestral contributions more than the keyboard. That shouldn’t be read as a reflection on Alena Hönigová. The 23 strong Orchester Eisenberg plays on authentic instruments, and there are certainly plenty of braying horns through the symphony, but the strings have a zesty snap and a warmth that I hadn’t expected. The tempos adopted are not excessive.

The booklet notes (in German, Czech and English) provide a good deal of historical background about Rösler and the two works, but no musical analysis (which doesn’t bother me – I’m happy to just listen).

All things considered, this is a success, and while I mightn’t be able to recall the melodies half an hour later, it is worth your consideration. Just be warned about the fortepiano.

David Barker

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