EBERL Piano Concertos: in E[musical flat], op. 40(1); in C, op. 32(2) * 1Paolo Giacometti, 2Riko Fukuda (fp); Michael Alexander Willens, cond; Cologne Academy (period instruments) * CPO 777354 (62:03)
One of these concertos, the C Major, is familiar to me through a 2000 Koch Schwann CD featuring pianist James McChesney with the Slovak Philharmonic Bratislava led by Karl Kemper. Comparison with the current performance is instructive because McChesney’s version is a modern-instrument affair, while this new one uses period instruments or copies thereof. A c. 1810 fortepiano by Viennese maker Mathias Müller from the Edwin Beunk collection is pictured on the inside of the booklet’s front page, and since no other instrument is mentioned in the text, I assume this is the one that was used for the recording.
Anton Eberl (1765-1807) has thus far barely made inroads into our musical consciousness. A handful of his works on a couple of CDs has found its way into previous Fanfare reviews, one by Brian Robins, the other by yours truly. Poor Eberl, his music considered second-rate in our time for being too derivative of and inferior to Mozart’s, and considered too good in his own time to be by anyone but Mozart. He had to write a letter to a widely read newspaper assuring the public that he, Eberl, was indeed the legitimate composer of the misattributed works. I wonder if anyone believed him, or if they thought he was a publicity-seeking fraud. Most of his more than 200 works are said to have disappeared, but a number of chamber works, pieces for solo piano, and these concertos remain and have been recorded.
It’s immediately obvious that the two works on this disc follow the pattern of the late 18th-century piano concerto perfected by Mozart. But further listening reveals details in both the scoring for orchestra and the type of keyboard figuration that ought to be clues to the trained ear that Eberl is closer to Beethoven than he is to Mozart. In the matter of scoring, Eberl’s approach to the orchestra is on a grander scale, making particularly bold use of horns and trumpets to articulate entrances and exits. Listen, for example, to the trumpet flourishes at the end of the first movement of the E[musical flat]-Concerto. Passages for winds are also more extensive and more elaborate.
In the matter of keyboard figuration, Eberl doesn’t fall back on Alberti-bass left-hand patterns as often as Mozart does, and Beethoven-like passages in octaves and thirds appear more often than they do in Mozart. It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that Eberl is somehow a missing link between Mozart and Beethoven, for both of his concertos performed here were completed in 1804, nine and seven years, respectively, after Beethoven’s Second and First concertos. Given that, it’s likely that Eberl heard Beethoven’s concertos and was more influenced by them than he was by Mozart’s, which by then already belonged to an earlier era.
These performances are absolutely wonderful. The fortepiano can sound a little opaque in the lower middle register and bass, but its upper range sparkles. Comparing Willens’s reading of the C-Major Concerto with Riko Fukuda to that by Kemper with McChesney, I am really surprised by the difference in interpretive approach. Kemper/McChesney is much faster in all three movements-too fast, I think-than Willens/Fukuda: 12:18, 8:42, 8:45 vs. 14:09, 10:20, 10:02. Ironically, this makes Kemper/McChesney sound more like Mozart and less like Beethoven than the other way around, because Beethoven’s concerto allegros are more allegro moderato and his andantes more adagio than Mozart’s. Even though the Kemper/McChesney is a modern-instrument performance, the Willens/Fukuda has a greater sense of gravity and purposefulness to it.
The comparison applies only to the C-Major Concerto, since the Koch Schwann CD doesn’t couple it with the B[musical flat]-Major Concerto. Paolo Giacometti’s playing in the latter is every bit as spirited and satisfying as Fukuda’s in the C-Major Concerto. An excellent recording, as is customary for CPO, adds to the strong recommendation for this release. Jerry Dubins