When I received this disc for review I was excited, then worried, then excited again. I was initially excited because this is the first volume in a complete series of Jan Ladislav Dussek’s 35 piano sonatas. I was worried because these were performances at a fortepiano of the period. But after I heard this release, I was excited again, and look forward to the next installment.

Dussek is a pivotal figure in the history of solo piano music. Though a contemporary of Mozart and Haydn, Dussek seemed to have skipped ahead to the early Romantic period. Dussek’s rock star celebrity as a performer predates Liszt. And his work with the Broadwood piano company helped develop the instrument.

As the fortepiano developed, so did Dussek’s music. Each sonata takes full advantage of the capabilities of an instrument of the day. So playing these works on a contemporary instrument makes sense. Dussek’s last sonatas (like Beethoven’s) are beyond the capabilities a 1790s instrument.

I normally don’t like the sound of the early fortepiano. Often the action is so loud it threatens to drown out the music. Not so with the 1799 Longman Clementi fortepiano heard here. This beautifully restored instrument has a decidedly different timbre than a modern instrument, but the action is almost silent.

Bart van Oort performs these sonatas with authority and panache. His nuanced shaping of melodic lines imbues the music with life.

The recording includes the three Op. 10 sonatas, published in 1789. These three works resemblance contemporary sonatas by Mozart and Haydn, but somehow seem more robust.

The 1795 “Pastorale” sonatas were published the same year as Beethoven’s first sonata. And it seems to be cut from a similar cloth. Compared to the Opus 10 sonatas, the harmonies are richer, and the dramatic gestures are bigger.

I am very much looking forward to the next installment in this series.

Jan Ladislav Dussek: Complete Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1
Sonatas Op. 10, Nos. 1-3; Sonata Op. 31, No. 2
Bart van Oort, fortepiano
Brilliant Classics, 95599