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Leopold Anton KOŽELUCH (1747-1818)
Piano Trios – Volume 3
Piano Trio P.IX:8 in A major (Op. 21 No. 2) [20:10]
Piano Trio P.IX:11 in C minor (Op. 23 No. 2) [18:05]
Piano Trio P.IX:12 in F major (Op. 23 No. 3) [19:36]
Trio 1790 (Annette Wehnert (violin), Imola Gombos (cello), Harald Hoeren (fortepiano))
rec. October 2015, November 2016, Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Germany
CPO 555 096-2 [58:15]

Back in 2013, the University of Cambridge produced some research which showed that our tastes in music change over a lifetime. Such changes are apparently in line with what are referred to as ‘life challenges’, as we progress from our teenage years, through early adulthood, into middle, and eventually old age, and the research used data from more than a quarter of a million people over a ten-year period.

In my own case, for example, while I have always had undying love for Romantic music, I now find myself deriving immense pleasure from the music written by the myriad of lesser-known composers active in the Classical Period, approximately 1750-1820.

This has brought me into contact with many names, some less familiar, and others completely unknown to me at the time. One such composer is Leopold Anton Koželuch, who, chronologically-speaking, is almost a perfect fit. He is certainly no personal stranger, since I previously had the pleasure of reviewing Volume 5, and Volume 6 of his Complete Keyboard Sonatas.

Koželuch (Koželuh, or Kotzeluch) was born the son of a shoemaker in the Bohemian town of Velvary, now part of the Czech Republic. His cousin Jan Antonín Koželuh, a composer himself, was his teacher for a while, and he contributed his first work, a ballet, to the National Theatre in Prague, writing some twenty-five works for them in the coming season. In 1778 he went to Vienna, where, it is thought he was a student of Albrechtsberger for a short while. Koželuch quickly entered the ranks of acclaimed pianists, and he also took over the position from Wagenseil as teacher to the Archduchess Elisabeth, Empress Maria Theresa’s daughter. He was later offered Mozart’s position in Salzburg when Mozart left in 1781, but refused, although he did accept the position of court composer in Prague, vacated by Mozart’s death in 1792, and, taking his lead from the Austrian, Koželuch also joined Freemasonry in Vienna around 1790 or so.

During his lifetime Koželuch experienced overall acceptance of his work throughout Europe, even though the fact that he appeared overly prolific was often the most frequent comment made about him. Given that he left around 400 compositions – some thirty symphonies, twenty-two piano concertos, including one for piano duet which is still one of the best examples of its kind, sixty-three piano trios, twenty-four violin sonatas and fifty keyboard sonatas – this would certainly warrant the claim of prolificacy, as well as possibly allowing for the odd under-par work or two to slip through the net.

These three piano trios comprising Volume 3 were first published by the composer himself in 1786 and 1787, and, within a few months were reissued in a number of European centres, including Paris and London, clearly attesting to the popularity of his music at the time. The opening Allegro of the Piano Trio in A major features a cheerfully high-spirited main theme heard first on the piano, while the second theme is given to the violin, confirming that, by this time in the history of the genre, Koželuch treats the three players as individuals, unlike earlier examples where the cello appears very much tethered to the pianist’s left hand. This is also evident at the start of the development section where there is some initial interplay between piano and violin, and later between violin and cello. This section includes some canonic treatment of the main theme, while also providing the composer with an opportunity to show off his contrapuntal expertise, the hallmark of any thorough musical education at the time.

The second movement – Andantino con variazioni – moves to the tonic minor key (A minor), and, as the marking implies, consists of a theme followed by seven variations. It is here that Koželuch not only demonstrates his considerable prowess in orchestration, by the way he involves the three instruments, but also his copious musical imagination, in the way he treats the theme itself. The major key returns for the closing Rondeau, marked Allegro – a bright and breezy little number in 2/4 time, though which pianist Harald Hoeren somewhat bizarrely describes as ‘resembling a gavotte’. A Gavotte is certainly nothing like this – probably the best way of explaining it is to refer to the exceedingly well-known example by François-Joseph Gossec, his Gavotte from his opera Rosine (1786). Had Hoeren said Galop, I could certainly see the connection. Apart from this slight digression, it’s a jolly little number, save for a short episode in the minor towards the middle.

We’re well aware that both Mozart, Beethoven, and others, produced some of their best works in the key of C minor, and now it’s Koželuch’s opportunity to show his mettle in this noble key. The C minor Trio of 1787 naturally inhabits a for more expressive world than its predecessor, and has a four-bar introduction where all three instruments are heard in unison octaves, rather than harmonized, something, which Hoeren informs us, is in keeping with Viennese classical traditions. The fairly-standard Allegro first movement is then followed by a contrastingly peaceful Andantino con moto in the relative major (E flat), where the violin initially sings its plaintive cantabile melody, later to be taken up and embellished by the piano.

The finale (Allegro) is another rondo, cast rather like a perpetuum mobile crossed with a toccata. As to be expected, while it opens and closes in the minor key, Koželuch does introduce some merriment in the C major episode.

The final offering on this new release also appeared in 1787, and the key of F major, coupled with its 6/8 time signature, certainly gives it a pastoral, outdoor feel which is maintained throughout the opening Allegro. According to Hoeren, several contemporary articles confirm this in their investigations on key associations. While Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony, also in F major, appeared some twenty years after Koželuch’s trio, the key association – albeit retrospective – is still there to be seen.

The slow second movement (Adagio), in the subdominant key of B flat, is, as Hoeren describes it, ‘the heart of the piece’, emotionally-speaking. It very much looks forward to the cantilena lines of the nocturnes of John Field (1782-1837). The jovial and unrestrained mood of the first movement returns for another rondo-finale, marked Rondeau - Allegretto, to round the trio off in high spirits. After a brief sojourn in the relative minor (D minor), for the second episode, which also sees Koželuch once more flexing his contrapuntal muscles in a short canonic section, the movement just fades away into the distance at the close. ‘Light music at its finest!’ to quote Hoeren’s final observation on the trio.

If you’ve yet to hear Trio 1790 play, then you’ve really missed a treat. On the present CD, for example, the playful virtuosity of the keyboard part is one of its most endearing features, which Harald Hoeren carries off with great aplomb and stylistic empathy, on a fine-sounding copy by English maker, Derek Adlam of an original Matthäus Heilman fortepiano from the end of the eighteenth century. Factor in the invaluable support of two more outstanding artists, violinist Annette Wehnert and cellist Imola Gombos (both also playing on period instruments), and you have the perfect vehicle for Koželuch’s delightfully varied and entertaining music, which, has also been so lovingly recorded, especially in terms of a well-balanced ensemble, but where individual instrumental nuances are faithfully captured.

Philip R Buttall



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