Dussek: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1

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LABELS: Heritage
ALBUM TITLE: Dussek: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1
WORKS: Sonatas Opp. 9/1; 10/2; 18/2; 23; 31/2; 39/2; 43-45; 47; 61; 77
PERFORMER: Maria Garzon


The Bohemian composer Jan Ladislav Dussek (1760-1812) spent an entire decade of his life in London, where the Broadwood piano firm built instruments for him with an extended range of six octaves, right up to a top C. The sonatas Dussek wrote for them in the mid-1790s were published as being ‘with additional keys’, and the keys in question weren’t available on Continental pianos until nearly a decade later: if Beethoven had had them, his sonatas up to the Waldstein and Appassionata might have sounded rather different.

There are times when the intricate ornamentation of Dussek’s proto-Romantic style seems to anticipate Chopin: the middle section of the slow movement in the fine F minor Sonata called L’invocation, for instance, or the syncopated slow introduction to the Elégie harmonique Sonata in F sharp minor, written in memory of Dussek’s patron Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia. Elsewhere, Dussek’s melodic invention can sometimes be undistinguished, but his quirky harmonic style usually saves the music from the commonplace.

Maria Garzón should be commended for her zeal in bringing these pieces to our attention – and, indeed, for successfully negotiating the myriad of notes they contain. Alas, good intentions are not enough, and it’s hard not to feel that her performances, with their general lack of elegance and shape (not to mention dramatic intensity), seldom rise above the workmanlike. This is music that needs, and deserves, stronger advocacy. The recordings, made in Wigmore Hall, are variable in quality: the first CD is too closely balanced, while the sound on the remaining two is much more atmospheric.


Misha Donat