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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791): "Mozartiana - Rarities and arrangements performed on historical keyboards"

Michael Tsalka, tangent pianoa, pantalonb

rec: Oct 2 - 3, 2018, Wangen im Allgäu (D), Rochuskapelle
Grand Piano - GP849 (© 2020) (73'47")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Adagio in b minor (K 540)a; Klavierstück in F (K 33b)a; Music for the pantomime Pantalon und Columbine (K 466-Fs) (ed. Franz Beyer)a
[London Sketchbook, K Anh 109b]b [No. 1] Allegretto in F (K 15a); [No. 2] Andantn n C (K 15b); [No. 8] Contredanse in F (K 15h); [No. 10] Minore in a minor (K 15k); [No. 20] Siciliano in d minor (K 15u)
[Mozartiana, ed. Edwin Fischer/Michael Tsalka]a Minuet in G (K 1e); Minuet in F (K 2); Minuet in D (K 94/73h); Fantasy in f minor (K 608); Andantino in E flat (K 236/558b); Contredanse in D 'Das Donnerwetter' (K 534); Romance in A flat (K Anh 205/K Anh C.27.04); ?Emanuel Aloys FÖRSTER (1748-1823): Variations on an Arietta from G. Sarti's I Finti Eredi (K Anh 289/K Anh. C.26.06)

It is not unusual that a disc includes some pieces that have not been recorded before. It mostly concerns pieces by composers who are not household names. It does not happen very often that such pieces are from the pen of one of the most famous composers in European history. However, exactly that is the case with the present disc, assuming that the claims in the track-list are correct. Considering the number of discs with music by Mozart, it seems not impossible that one or the other of them has escaped the attention of the producers. Moreover, at least in the case of the Fantasy in f minor, the indication that it is a 'world premiere recording' can't be true. It is intended for a mechanical clock, but is mostly played on larger organs in our time. In this case, it is likely the first time that it has been recorded on the tangent piano. More about the instruments later.

First the programme. It is probably not surprising that some of the first recordings concern very early pieces. For some inexplicable reasons, performers tend to focus on the compositions of the 'mature years' of a composer. The later symphonies by Mozart are much more frequently performed and recorded than the early works. In the case of the keyboard music, it is probably mainly thanks to representatives of historical performance practice, that pieces from Mozart's youth are available in recordings. The minuets Michael Tsalka included in his programme all fall into this category, as the KV numbering indicates. Such pieces date from the time that Mozart played the harpsichord. That was the kind of keyboard instrument which he had grown up with, and on which he had learned to play. It would be an exaggeration to say that these pieces are commonly known and often performed, but all three minuets included here (KV 1e, 2 and 94) have been recorded before. That also goes for the Andantino in E flat (KV 236), which is one of a number of pieces which take a subject from an opera of Mozart's time as their starting point. These pieces are ranked among those which are part of the collection, known as Mozartiana, compiled, edited and arranged by Edwin Fischer. To what extent the pieces just mentioned are different from the versions in pre-existing recordings, is impossible for me to check.

The Romance in A flat may well receive its first recording here, but in this case the numbering in the Köchel catalogue indicates that its authencity is questionable. In such cases it is much more likely that they are ignored, and also omitted in complete recordings. It is not included, for instance, in the complete recording by Bart van Oort (Brilliant Classics). The Variations on an Arietta from G. Sarti's I Finti Eredi are almost certainly not from Mozart's pen, but rather written by Emanuel Aloys Förster.

The largest part of this disc that receives its premiere, is the music for the pantomime Pantalon und Columbine. This is one of Mozart's lesser-known works. It is a ballet-pantomime in which Mozart played Harlequin to the Columbine of his sister-in-law Aloysia Lange during the carnival season of 1783. It has become known in a completed edition by Franz Beyer. It has been recorded in his orchestration, but apparently he also made a keyboard arrangement, and that is what we get here. In this case the first recording concerns this keyboard version.

A number of pieces by Mozart are part of the 'London Sketchbook', which dates from 1764. Those pieces were written during the stay of the Mozarts in London, where Wolfgang met Johann Christian Bach, who was to become one of his heroes and a good personal friend. It comprises a little under forty pieces, and Tsalka offers five of them.

Considering that probably most of the pieces included here are available in other recordings, this disc's main interest may well be the instruments Tsalka selected for the recording. The tangent piano is not a rarity anymore. In the course of time, it has earned its place among the instruments representatives of historical performance practice use for the interpretation of keyboard music written in the second half of the 18th century, especially by composers from Germany and Austria. It has been involved in recordings of the oeuvre of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. In the booklet, Pooya Radbon writes about the tangent piano that "[its] design integrates elements of the harpsichord and clavichord into the fortepiano. The tangent piano's strong, bright resonance is produced by pivotless bare wooden staves, striking from below relatively thin strings. The resulting tone quality is quite unique, like a harpsichord suddenly endowed with the ability of producing dynamics". Other attempts to save the harpsichord from being sidelined by the fortepiano were the addition of pedals to the traditional harpsichord, but these are far less convincing than the tangent piano. It is not known for sure that Mozart played the tangent piano, but he certainly knew one of its main builders, Franz Jakob Späth. Here Tsalka plays an original instrument, built around 1797 by Johann Wilhelm Berner, who seems to have worked for Späth. Whereas in the case of the fortepiano the use of an instrument of a much later date than the music is often problematic because of the changes in the building of the instrument, that is not relevant here, as the tangent piano probably has changed very little with time.

The other instrument is hardly ever used in recordings, and even many who have a special interest in historical keyboards, may not know it or heard it in recordings. Around 1700, the German violinist Pantaleon Hebenstreit developed a large dulcimer with a soundboard containing a combination of 200 gut and steel strings. These were probably played with hammers. Its sound was appreciated by music lovers, but it was a large beast of almost 270 cm long, and therefore hardly transportable. It inspired keyboard builders to make a keyboard which was easier to operate, lacking dampers but with regular iron and brass strings and several handstops. Pantalon was one of the names with which it was known. Most of such instruments had a rather narrow range, but the pantalon used in this recording, built around 1780 by Gottfried Maucher, has a compass of five octaves. This recording is claimed to be the first to feature a historic pantalon. However, I should mention here a recent three-disc set with music by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, in which Pierre Goy plays a pantalon from 1776 (to be reviewed in due course). Never mind, it is highly interesting to hear this kind of instrument, even though Mozart may never have played it. That said, I personally find the tangent piano much more satisfying, especially because its larger palette of colours. I certainly am not keen to listen to a pantalon for an hour or so. From that angle I wonder how frequently it is going to be used in recordings.

The reader will have gathered by now that this is a most intriguing recording. Mozart aficionados who don't have some of the pieces in other recordings, have the opportunity to fill a couple of white spots in their collection. However, this disc will especially attract those who have a particular interest in historical (keyboard) instruments. It offers the opportunity to hear an instrument they may never have heard before and only have read about in books or encyclopedias. Michael Tsalka is a sensitive interpreter who knows exactly how to handle the two instruments, making sure that their respective qualities come fully to the fore. The better-known pieces, such as the Fantasy in f minor and the Adagio in b minor, show that as an interpreter, he can compete with anyone.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

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Michael Tsalka

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