Antony Hodgson
Classical Source
September 2018

Howard Shelley’s recordings of late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth-century music promote piano concertos by the many excellent yet relatively neglected composers of that era in a way similar to Matthias Bamert’s Chandos presentations of lesser-known contemporary symphonies. In particular for Hyperion Shelley has endorsed music by Czerny, Hiller, Pixis, Steibelt and Clementi (and he has also recorded the latter’s complete Piano Sonatas).

This is the second volume of Dussek concertos from Shelley, and his unaffected sympathetic approach is ideal. Although Jan Ladislav Dussek (1760-1812) was a near-contemporary of Mozart, he has an individual style. Perhaps the first fifteen seconds of the E flat Concerto provide a somewhat Mozartean melody but thereafter the phrases lean toward the style of the next century which was still a decade away at the time of this composition; another dissimilarity is Dussek’s disinterest in cadenzas, save only in the F major Concerto does he provide the opportunity (grabbed by Shelley and for not too long). The Andantino of Opus 3 shows an interesting philosophy in that a very simple tune is developed in a darkly dramatic way; this is far from being a relaxing central movement and Shelley has the Ulster Orchestra make its counter-entries strongly while using the piano gently to return to the innocence of the main theme. Suitably, the Finale is light-hearted.

The Opus 14 Concerto from 1791 has a substantial opening movement; it suggests that the Classical era is moving to its close; ideas are now more serious, although the Finale uses an optimistic melody in a calm yet striking manner that looks forward to the music of Spohr: the interjectory orchestral sequences are a subsidiary factor but they are precisely delivered. The first movement of the 1801 G minor Concerto is as long as some readings of its counterpart in Beethoven’s contemporaneous ‘Eroica’ Symphony. The expansive, often forceful, introduction takes three minutes yet in context it is not overlong, so skilled is Dussek’s construction. Shelley’s symphonic approach never lingers over expressive moments and this powerful music is elegantly set off by his thoughtful way with the gracious following Adagio. The Finale succeeds in making the minor-keyed themes sound like a Hungarian festival and the scoring is adventurously colourful. If only in its first year, the nineteenth-century had certainly arrived.