Slovak Sinfonietta Žilina · Oliver von Dohnanyi, conductor
Tomas Dratva, piano
In 1792, at the height of the Viennese Classic, Leopold Koželuch took over Mozart’s position as chamber composer to the emperor. He wrote primarily for the “fortepiano”: 23 piano concertos, 55 piano sonatas and 65 piano trios. On this CD, Swiss pianist Tomas Dratva presents three of Koželuch’s earliest piano concertos, written in 1784 and 1785. In 2002, Dratva came across numer-ous original documents of Koželuch’s piano concertos. Supported by composer and musicologist Vladimír Godár, he reconstructed the performance material for the three works presented here. In December 2004, he performed them with the Slovak Sinfonietta Žilina in a concert series – the first time in 200 years that they had been heard. All solo cadenzas were composed by Tomas Dratva.
and first recording
During research trips to Vienna and Paris in 2002, Swiss pianist Tomas Dratva came across numerous original documents of Koželuch’s piano concertos. Supported by composer and musicologist Vladimír Godár, he reconstructed the performance material for the three concertos presented here. In December
2004, he performed the works with the Slovak Sinfonietta Žilina in a highly successful series of concerts – the first time in 200 years that the works had been heard. This recording was made immediately after the historic new performance. All solo cadenzas were composed
by Tomas Dratva.
Leopold Koželuch’s piano concertos
Vienna, 1785: Haydn and Mozart are at the height of their creativity, the young Beethoven will soon appear on the scene as well. Many other extraordinary musicians also contribute to shaping that unique epoch in music history we call the “Viennese Classic”. String quartets, symphonies, piano concertos and sonatas are composed in dizzying succession
and at the highest level. The steadily growing audiences in a thriving city hold only the newest in esteem.
This is the era in which Leopold Koželuch also lives and composes in Vienna. Born in Bohemia and educated in Prague, he moved to Vienna in 1778. In 1792, he became Mozart’s successor as chamber composer to the Emperor. He writes primarily for the “fortepiano”, otherwise known as the hammerklavier. His output: 23 piano concertos,
55 piano sonatas and 65 piano trios.
Grands Concertos pour le Clavecin ou Piano Forte accompagnés de 2 Violons, 2 Hautbois, 2 Cors de Chasse, Viole et Basso… composé par L. Koželuch à Vienne… [“Whoever knows Mozart’s piano works will easily see that the author’s taste tends mostly towards these…”] (quoted from an article on new piano concertos
by Koželuch in the “Magazin der Musik”, Vienna, 03/07/1785, p. 538, publ. by C.F. Cramer)
Leopold Koželuch’s piano concertos are the embodiment of the Viennese Classic, and are characterized by the lightness and elegance of their sound as well as the clarity of their formal architecture. The orchestra takes over the obligatory exposition of the thematic material;
the piano continues the musical ideas and then goes its own way with playful figuration.
The further course of the movements is determined by the piano. Modulations and thematic changes are generally carried out by the piano in sequences featuring grandiose passagework; the orchestral tuttis lend clear formal structure to the movements.
The three compositions on this CD were written in 1784 and 1785 and are representative
of Koželuch’s first piano concertos. The composer has used an orchestra with strings plus two oboes and horns throughout. Although
all of the concertos are formally very similar, they do differ in basic character. The Piano Concerto No. 1 in F Major is passionate and insistent, with the strings playing an active role during the piano solos. Their accompaniment
gives the piano a particularly songlike and brilliant sound. This mixed sonority (Misch-klang) – considered modern at the time – was extremely popular and just right for the colour-ful but fragile fortepiano timbre. The entire Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major retains a dignified, noble character corresponding to traditional notions concerning this key. In the first movement, the piano is primarily heard together
with horns and oboes, anticipating the “Chasse” music of the Finale. The Piano Concerto
No. 4 in A Major is playful and refined; despite passionate moments and virtuosic passages, it remains remarkably intimate.
As simple as the themes and motives in the first and last movements of these concertos
are, all the more elaborate and poetic are the musical ideas in their lyrical, slow middle movements. It is here that Koželuch shows his personal and thoroughly experimental side, proving that he can be ahead of his time. A particularly good example of this is the Adagio
of the Concerto in F Major. The ambivalent hesitation between major and minor anticipates
compositional practices of the later Romantic,
and the use of sordini (mutes) in the strings intensifies this harmonic ambiguity
with a tonal color that was new for listeners of that time. It was this modern experimentation with sound that, some years later, Beethoven took up and made part of his own musical substance.
Slovak Sinfonietta Žilina
Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler
The Slovak Sinfonietta was founded in 1974 and is one of Eastern Europe’s leading chamber orchestras. Since its inception, it has concertized regularly on all continents and has dozens of recordings on the market. The ensemble’s principle conductor is Oliver von Dohnanyi, who is simultaneously the artistic director of the opera at the Prague National Theater.
Not only has the Slovak Sinfonietta Žilina achieved a leading position in the Czech Republic
and Slovakia, it has also become internationally
renowned. Its 35 members are mostly graduates of the conservatories in Prague, Brno and Bratislava. Many of them have won prizes in international competitions and are also soloists when not involved in orchestra
projects. The first principle conductor of the Slovak Sinfonietta Žilina was the famous
Czech conductor and composer Eduard Fischer (1930-1993). Thanks to the manner in which he set up the chamber orchestra, actually
creating a small symphony orchestra, the Slovak Sinfonietta has a broad repertoire that includes works of the Baroque, Viennese Classic, early Romantic and 20th century. The ensemble has performed over 80 premieres of Slovakian compositions. It regularly performs highly unusual programs of jazz and pop music as well, mostly for younger audiences.
Oliver von Dohnanyi
Born in 1955, Oliver von Dohnanyi studied at Prague’s Academy for Music with Professor Vaclav Neumann and Alois Klima, continuing at the Conservatory of Music and Theater in Vienna with Professor Otmar Suitner.
This was followed by master classes with Igor Markevitch and Franco Ferrara. In 1979, he was appointed conductor of the RSO Bratislava. From 1986–1991, he was principle conductor and music director of the Slovakian National Theater in Bratislava. From 1993 on, he was the music director of the Prague National
Theater; in 1997 he conducted Falstaff (Verdi) at the English National Opera. Since January 2000, he has worked closely with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra in Prague. Since June 2004, he has been the music
director of the National Theater in Prague and of the Slovak Sinfonietta Žilina.