Piano rarities by Beethoven contemporaries

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Joseph Johann Baptist Wölfl was an Austrian first rate pianist and also a neglected composer whose Piano Sonata in E Major, Op. 33, No. 3 opens the new and notable CHANDOS album of works by contemporaries of Beethoven. The entire program is played to perfection by pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet.

A Keyboard Sonata in A Major, Op. 50, No. 1 by the Italian-born English subject Muzio Clementi, whose elegant classicism exerted a significant on Beethoven himself, is next, again played with Gallic insouciance by Bavouzet.

The Piano Sonata No. 3 in F Minor, Op. 20 of the Austrian Johann Nepomuk Hummel shows a musical world in transition with one foot of the composer firmly planted in the Classical world of Mozart and Haydn and the other tentatively dipping itself into the turbulent waters of 19th century’s early Romanticism.

I avow no prior familiarity with the name or music of the Czech composer Jan Ladislav Dussek, whose intriguingly-titled Élégie Harmonique is a two-movement piece with an opening Adagio that Bellini or Chopin could have tossed off, and a second-part Allegro that would test any pianist’s interpretive mettle.

Throughout the album, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet plays elegantly, sensitively, and with rock solid technique.

In an insightful program note, the protean French pianist observes: ‘Just as a mountain peak is always surrounded by other perhaps less lofty but no less fascinating summits, the major works of Beethoven are not isolated rock formations rising from the desert, but, as it were, “Himalayas”, forming part of a range in which other mountains might be the best pieces by contemporaries such as Clementi, Hummel, Dussek, and Wölfl. These composers all knew Beethoven well and were in contact with one another. It is essential to know and to make known their music in order better to understand and more thoroughly appreciate the lingua franca of the music of the time, which in turn is part and parcel of the “spirit of the age”, and to be aware of that which unites them, as well as to recognize that which differentiates them and renders each unique. In this year of plentiful Beethovenian commemorations, it appears to me natural, indeed essential, to pay admiring and enthusiastic homage to these composers, each of whom, in his own way, followed his route to the summit.’

The album is a worthy addition to the music library of anyone fond of the unexpected discovery in music for the keyboard.

Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

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