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Jan Ladislav Dussek & Sophia Giustina Corri

[I] Jan Ladislav DUSSEK (1760 - 1812), Sophia Giustina DUSSEK-CORRI (1775 - 1831): "Madame et Monsieur Dussek"
Masumi Nagasawa, harp
rec: Oct 2011, Amsterdam, Waalse Kerk
Et'cetera - KTC 1439 (2 CDs) (© 2012) (2.02'57")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Sophia Giustina CORRI: Sicilian Air on which is founded the popular ballad 'Home! Sweet Home' arranged for the harp; Sonata I in E flat [2]; Sonata I in B flat [1]; Sonata II in F [2]; Sonata II in G [1]; Sonata III in C [2]; Sonata III in c minor [1]; Jan Ladislav DUSSEK: A favorite Andante & Rondo for the harp; A favorite English Ballad 'In the dead of the night'; Concerto for harp and orchestra in B flat, arr for harp solo (arr Sophia Corri) (C 264); Sonata in B flat, op. 34,2 (C 148); Sonatina I in C (C d160); Sonatina II in F (C d161); Sonatina III in G (C d162); Sonatina IV in B flat (C d163); Sonatina V in F (C d164); Sonatina VI in E flat (C d165)

Sources: Sophia Giustina Corri, [1] Three Sonatas for the harp with Scots Airs and Reels for the Adagios & Rondo op. 2, book 1, [n.d.]; [2] Three Sonatas for the harp with Scots Airs and Reels for the Adagios & Rondo op. 2, book 2, [n.d.]

[II] Jan Ladislav DUSSEK (1760-1812): "Duos for Harp and Piano Forte"
Masumi Nagasawa, harp; Richard Egarr, fortepiano
rec: Nov 2011, Amsterdam, Waalse Kerk
Et'cetera - KTC 1436 (© 2012) (71'15")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Sophia Giustina CORRI (1775-1831): Introduction and Waltz for the Harp and Piano Forte; Jan Ladislav DUSSEK: Duettino in C (C 189); Duetto in F, op. 26 (C 102); Duo Concertant in Es, op. 72 (C 239); Duo Concertant in F, op. 73 (C 243)

"I write these notes at the beginning of 2012. (...) 2012 is the 200th anniversary of Dussek's death. I can safely predict that none of the major pianists playing recitals in major venues this year will programme any music by this most important piano genius: composer, arranger, virtuoso, publisher, technical innovator, and all-round fascinating character". Thus Richard Egarr in his liner-notes to the disc with music for harp and pianoforte by Dussek. Although I have by no means a complete picture of the programmes of the "major pianists" in 2012 it wouldn't surprise me at all if Egarr's prediction has been vindicated. After all, the stars of the music scene are not exactly known for their adventurous programming. It is almost exclusively the interpreters in the field of the historical performance practice who colour in the white spots on the musical map. Among them are Masumi Nagasawa and Richard Egarr.

Dussek was one of many musicians of the second half of the 18th century from Bohemia. His father was an organist and composer who also played the harp. Three of his children became professional musicians; the eldest of them was Jan Ladislav. The latter led an adventurous life which brought him in many countries across Europe. He performed as a virtuoso at the keyboard - which in his days was mostly the fortepiano - and as a teacher. In 1786 he settled in Paris where he moved in the highest circles and became acquainted with Marie Antoinette. Because of his connections with the aristocracy he fled to London when the French revolution broke out.

Dussek was also known for having various affairs with women. Usually such things have no musical relevance, but it is different in this case. In England he married Sophia Giustina Corri. She was born in Edinburgh from Italian parents and was educated at the piano and in composing by her father. In 1788 the family moved to London and here she made her debut as a singer at the Solomon concerts in 1791, under the direction of Haydn. She also participated in first performances of Mozart's music in London. She also became acquainted with Dussek, which resulted in their marriage in 1792. They performed in public at the fortepiano and the harp. This relationship partly explains that Dussek composed a considerable number of pieces for the harp and for the combination of harp and keyboard.

The booklet of the discs devoted to "Madame & Monsieur Dussek" Masuma Nagasawa writes a dialogue between them, "composed freely, inspired by historical facts". She mentions that before his arrival in London Dussek had an affair in Paris with Anne-Marie Krumpholtz, wife of the harpist Jean-Baptiste Krumpholtz. That should explain the fact that the Sonatinas are dedicated to "Madame Krumpholtz". However, the very fact that she eloped to London with an unknown lover is not confirmed. She indeed performed in London, also in the Solomon concerts, but she was there already in 1788 at the latest. That makes Ms Nagasawa's assumption rather implausible. In New Grove Madame Krumpholtz is even not mentioned in the article on Dussek, and in his briographical sketch of Dussek Egarr doesn't make mention of it either.
It needs to be noted that in New Grove these sonatinas are included in the oeuvre of Sophia Corri; it is added that they were formerly attributed to Jan Ladislav. It that is correct the connection between Dussek and Mrs Krumpholtz becomes even less plausible.

If they were written by Dussek after all, these Sonatinas show that Dussek already wrote music for harp before his time in England. That is not suprising: in the last decades of the 18th century the harp had become one of the most fashionable instruments, especially in France. As Dussek's father and his sister were both players of the harp he must have had a thorough knowledge of the instruments and its features. At the same time it should be noted that in many pieces the fortepiano was indicated as an alternative to the harp. The latter was fashionable but probably not as widespread as the keyboard. The Duetto in F, op. 26, for instance, is scored for either harp and fortepiano or for two fortepianos. A number of pieces in Dussek's oeuvre originally written for the harp were later adapted for the fortepiano or vice versa.

As far as the music for harp and keyboard is concerned, it is not surprising that they are not often - if at all - played by representatives of the 'traditional' performance practice. It is very hard to achieve a good balance between the two instruments with a modern harp and a modern concert grand. It is no problem at all with two historical instruments as the second recording shows. The two Duo Concertants are late works, dating from 1811, which were written for performances in France with the famous harpist François Naderman. This is music for professional performers. The two interpreters use the full dynamic range of their respective instruments. Even when Egarr plays forte the harp is not overpowered, thanks to its carrying and colourful sound.

The Duetto in F is from 1794 and more modest in its proportions and technical requirements, which is reflected in the performance, with a dynamically narrower range. The Duettino is a short piece in two movements which is more aimed at the amateur market. The disc ends with a piece by Sophia Corri, bearing witness to her acitivities as a composer. Those are the subject of the first recording's second disc. It includes six sonatas, each in three movements, mostly closing - according to the fashion of the time - with a rondo. According to the title they are based on "Scots Airs and Reels", but there seems to be no indication as which airs and reels appear in these pieces. Especially interesting is the last piece of that disc, the Concerto in B flat. It was written by Dussek for Sophia Corri as a concerto for harp and orchestra. That piece has been lost, and what has come down to us is the arrangement for solo harp which Sophia Corri made. In this form it is a fine piece which suggests that the loss of the original is very regrettable, especially since there are not that many harp concertos from the classical era anyway.

Masumi Nagasawa is a most eloquent interpreter. She delivers very speech-like performances, well articulated and with clear dynamic accents. In the hands of a less qualified player and played at a modern instrument the pieces by Sophia Corri could easily become rather trifling, but that is certainly not the case here. These are very worthwhile compositions and a further exploration of Corri's oeuvre could be rewarding. The variations on home! Sweet Home are enjoyable.

A couple of issues need to be addressed. Firstly, the first disc of Ms Nagasawa's solo recording opens with Dussek's Sonata in B flat, op. 34,2 which, according to the work-list in New Grove, was written for harp, violin and cello. The omission of the string parts is not mentioned in the booklet and I just wonder what the justification for that may be.

The second issue concerns the instruments used. Masumi Nagasawa plays a single-action pedal harp by Naderman from around 1815. I have no knowledge about the technical developments in the construction of the instrument. Therefore I can't tell whether a harp of 1815 is suitable for music written about 20 years earlier. The same goes for the pitch used here which is a=423Hz. Was this used across Europe, or were there differences between, for instance, Paris and London, and between 1790 and 1811? Egarr plays a fortepiano by Broadwood from 1804 which seems the appropriate instrument for the later pieces, but I am not so sure about the music from the early 1790s.

Leaving these things out of consideration I have nothing but admiration for these two recordings which are a worthy tribute to a composer who is not neglected but still not part of the standard repertoire, not even that of period-instrument ensembles and fortepiano players. It is hard to imagine better interpreters than Masumi Nagasawa and Richard Egarr. Fortunately the programme of the second recording is different from the fine disc by Edward Witsenburg and Jacques Ogg (Globe, 1999) which includes the duets op. 69 and the duet op. 38.

The booklet of the second recording includes informative notes on Dussek's life and career, but is a little short on the music. That goes even more for the solo recording: instead of an invented dialogue between Jan Ladislav Dussek and Sophia Corri I would have liked to read more about the music.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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Masumi Nagasawa

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