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Carl Ditters von DITTERSDORF [1739-1799] 
Three ‘Ovid’ Sonatas for Fortepiano, Four Hands
Ajax et Ulysse [18:52]
Hercule change en Dieu [17:53]
Jason, qui emporte la toison d’or [18:57]
James Tibbles and Michael Tsalka (fortepiano)
rec. The Music Theatre, University of Auckland, New Zealand, 2014
NAXOS 8.573740 [55:58]

Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf was something of an enigma; on the one hand he was regarded as one of the greatest composers and musicians of his day and he played first violin in a string quartet that included Haydn, Mozart and Vanhal. Yet, on the other hand, his music was overshadowed by that his fellow quartet members and largely forgotten after his death. One reason for this neglect could be because of his favouring of the tradition of emphasising the melody rather than, as Haydn and Mozart did, building upon the thematic material within the melody to produce new and strikingly original work. That being said, his music is still colourful and full of interest and in many ways forward looking.

Perhaps Dittersdorf’s most innovative musical idea was his 1781 concept of a collection of fifteen symphonies depicting scenes from the Metamorphoses of Ovid. His initial idea was that these new symphonies would be accompanied by new translations of the original work as well as etchings from leading artists of the period, possibly making this the first true multi-media experience. Sadly, the project did not come to fruition with only the first six symphonies ever being completed, also recorded by Naxos (8.553368, 8.553369), and there were to be no new translations or art works.

It has been suggested that the three sonatas presented here represent Dittersdorf’s attempt to salvage music he had originally planned for inclusion in the group of fifteen symphonies. Whilst I know some of Dittersdorf’s symphonies I am sad to say the ‘Ovid’ symphonies are not amongst them. It is clear from this music however, that this is some of the composer’s most dramatic music and I could easily see it being derived from the symphonies, especially as the four-handed piano writing certainly brings out the colour and orchestral sonorities of the sonata;, this is especially true of the Jason, qui emporte la toison d’or Sonata.

The performance of James Tibbles and Michael Tsalka is excellent throughout, with the sound of the instrument, a copy of a Walter fortepiano of 1801being big enough to bring out the character of Dittersdorf’s music. The booklet notes on the music, whilst brief, are very good and these are augmented with a brief synopsis of the sections of Ovid’s original that lie behind the sonatas. All in all, this is a most welcome and valuable recording, one which is a winner and not just as an historical rarity, but also musically; this music deserves to be heard and in Tibbles and Tsalka we have the ideal partnership to bring this music to life.

Stuart Sillitoe



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