Steffan: Harpsichord Sonatas
Mitzi Meyerson (harpsichord) (Glossa)
Mitzi Meyerson (harpsichord)
Glossa GCD921810 78:49 mins
A contemporary of Haydn, the Bohemian composer Joseph Anton Steffan (1726-97) fled his war-torn country to settle in Vienna in 1741 where he became the teacher of the future Queen of France, Marie Antoinette. He’s best known today for his songs but this disc reveals a fistful of sparkling keyboard works: there are hints of Haydn here, Scarlatti there, but Steffan’s style is ultimately original and distinctive.
Having dusted off these forgotten scores for her swansong recording, Mitzi Meyerson makes for a persuasive advocate. She brings rhetoric and drama to the programmatic opening work, conjuring up the ebb and flow of a devotional procession. In the first movement of the B flat Sonata, spirited percussive playing interrupts sinuous passagework while, in the closing minuet of the same work, courtly grace turns to whirling exotica. In the opening Adagio of the C minor Sonata, turbulent sturm und drang tirades give way to witty banter, and even the single-movement works – both marked Andante non molto – vacillate in tempo and mood.
Meyerson realises Steffan’s expressive dynamics (probably written with the fortepiano in mind) by contrasting different manuals, stops and registers and using single and triple strings to paint varied timbres and colours. Above all, though, she highlights Steffan’s delightful sense of humour in the lolloping naivety of the B flat Andante non molto and in the miaowing squeals and dissonances of the final sonata’s ‘Cat Song.’
In sum, Steffan revels in all the expressive possibilities of the keyboards of his day; Meyerson responds with playing at once informed and joyous.