Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Michael Tsalka records Daniel Gottlob Turk's "Connoisseur" Sonatas

Michael Tsalka (photo:Rami Tsalka)
As beginning piano students, many of us were introduced to Türk’s music through small works from his “Kleine Händstücke für angehende Klavierspiele” (Small Pieces for Future Pianists) a pedagogical collection of miniatures. The renowned North German music teacher, pianist, theorist, organist and prominent composer Daniel Gottlob Türk (1750-1813) was born in Claussnitz, Germany. His first teacher was his father, a court instrumentalist. By his teens, Türk had become a student of composer, cantor and organist Gottfried Homilius who, himself, had been a pupil of J.S.Bach. As a student at the University of Leipzig in the early 1770s, Türk came into contact with keyboard virtuoso Johann Wilhelm Hässler, who introduced him to C.P.E.Bach’s keyboard sonatas as well as to the younger Bach’s “Versuch über die wahre Art das Klavier zu spielen” (Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments) of 1753, a substantial work on new keyboard technique, fingering, ornaments and the correct use of figured bass, counterpoint and harmony.

At age 24, Türk moved to Halle, becoming a central figure of musical life there, where he held church positions (succeeding W.F.Bach in one) and taught general subjects at the Lutheran School. As professor of music at Halle University, he conducted many performances, also teaching music theory, composition and music history. His treatise “On the Role of the Organist” (1787), written when he was organist of the university, presents a detailed discussion on chorales, preludes, accompaniment and organ construction and maintenance. Under the guidance of his friend and mentor, the influential music scholar Johann Adam Hiller, Türk started work on his two volumes of sonatas. He composed 48 sonatas. Written in 1789, when the pianoforte was replacing the clavichord as the main domestic keyboard instrument, Türk’s “Klavierschule” (School of Piano Playing) became one of the most notable sources on keyboard performance practice of the late 18th century, dealing not only with the finest details of technique but also with aesthetic issues. 1789 was also the year he published his “Six Sonatas for Connoisseurs”. All of the above information points to Türk’s knowledge of- and interest in keyboard instruments in general. In the premiere recording of these pieces, this fact was surely that which gave rise to keyboard player Michael Tsalka’s decision to play the “Six Keyboard Sonatas for Connoisseurs”, using his own new critical edition, on different keyboard instruments.

Born in Tel Aviv, Michael Tsalka graduated from Tel Aviv University with a bachelor’s degree, continuing studies in Germany and Italy. From 2002 to 2008, he resided in Philadelphia, studying at Temple University – fortepiano and chamber music with Lambert Orkis, modern piano and duo piano with Harvey Wedeen and harpsichord, clavichord and positive organ with Joyce Lindorff. His doctorate is in piano performance. A versatile musician, Tsalka performs solo- and chamber music from Baroque- to contemporary music on modern piano, harpsichord, fortepiano, clavichord, square piano and chamber organ. He performs and presents lecture-recitals worldwide, recording for the Naxos and Paladino labels. Tsalka currently teaches early keyboards and chamber music at the Lilla Akademien in Stokholm,Sweden.

Michael Tsalka performance of the “Klaviersonaten, grösstenteils für Kenner” (Six Keyboard Sonatas for Connoisseurs) is on different historical keyboard instruments of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection. Referring to the experience as “exhilarating”, he mentions the fact that these works “provide the performer with excellent opportunities to display virtuosity in conjunction with expressiveness and stylistic sophistication”. Today’s concert-goer tends to hear Baroque keyboard instruments in certain concerts and the modern piano in others. I would add that Tsalka is reminding the listener that there is a whole evolution of keyboard instruments spanning the period from the clavichord to the modern piano and that, if that same listener wishes to enter the mind of the composer, he is at an advantage hearing works played on different authentic instruments of the time. Despite claiming the clavichord as his favorite keyboard instrument, it seems that Türk did not specify which instruments were to be used for these six sonatas.

As one begins to listen to Sonata no.1 in A minor HEDT.104.8.1, played on a fortepiano by Conrad Graf (Vienna, c.1838), one dismisses any idea of these pieces constituting merely polite salon music. Here is the North German sonata form with much to say. Tsalka’s playing celebrates the two outer movements’ strong character, their outspoken lines and fast mood changes heard as he delights the ear with clean, exciting finger work. His playing of the middle movement – Poco adagio, patetico e sostenuto – is spontaneous and carefully paced. Under his fingers, the Graf fortepiano (tuned to a’=406 Hz), made almost entirely of wood (there is no metal frame) springs to life like a wild animal, rendering the work’s musical gestures as exciting, real and human.
Sonata no.2 in E flat major HEDT.104.8.2 is played on a (most exquisitely beautiful) clavichord built in 1763 by Christian Kintzing (Germany). Tsalka’s rubato reading of the first movement gives it a sense of urgency. The use he makes of the instrument’s pantalon stop offers a sustained effect. Following this, the Adagio cantabile e sempre piano movement is touching in its poignancy; the final Allegro is exuberant and indeed stirring. Well recorded, the CD presents the clavichord’s timbral and dynamic potential, much to the listener’s advantage – a small instrument but boasting plenty of character!

Sonatas no.3 and no.4 were both recorded on a grand piano built around 1790 by the Austrian Ferdinand Hofmann, an influential member of Vienna’s Civic Keyboard Builders’ Association. The instrument has a range of five octaves, is double-strung in the bass and triple-strung in the treble. Knee levers lift the dampers. Once the listener’s ear adjusts to the fast decay of sound he is ready to navigate the adventures of Sonata no.3 in B minor HEDT.104.8.3 together with Tsalka. In the opening Allegro con espressione, Tsalka keeps his listener in suspense as he colors, shapes and examines the spirit of each of the erratic and unpredictable gestures, Classical in form and in pianism, yet so personal, we are also exposed to the legacy of the Baroque practice of ornamentation. In the middle Adagio movement, Tsalka operates the mute to create an intimate soundscape. The second movement of Sonata no.4 in G major HEDT.104.8.4 - Grave e pomposo – is very colorful in its effusive “dialogue”, with the following movement – Allegro assai – no less so, treated by Tsalka with a touch of whimsy. Tsalka takes advantage of the crisp and distinctive timbre of this instrument in bringing these pieces alive.

Sonata no.5 in B flat major HEDT.104.8.5 is played on a grand piano of around 1790, an instrument thought to have been built by Johann Schmidt (Salzburg). Schmidt was a friend of the Mozart family; in fact, “W.A.M.” scratched on the inside of this very instrument would probably point to the fact that Wolfgang Mozart had played it in Salzburg. In addition to being completely double-strung, having knee levers that operate the dampers and a “soft” stop, this piano has a hand lever that operates a buzzy-sounding bassoon” stop. It also has a pedal board (played like that of the organ), a feature not uncommon to 18th century stringed keyboard instruments. Written more conservatively than other sonatas, Sonata no.5 becomes a sympathetic, graceful piece in Michael Tsalka’s hands, the composer’s musical reasoning inviting the listener to follow it through. In the final movement – Allegro scherzando - the pianist flexes tempi gregariously, joking along with the composer in some musical hide-and-seek. The final work of this collection – Sinfonia no.6 in C major, HEDT.194.8.6, also performed on the Schmidt grand piano, is a fine piece of musical rhetoric; Tsalka’s reading of it presents its vivacity, humor and some almost theatrical elements, perhaps a reference to opera buffa, especially in its outer movements. The middle movement, which well could have been based on a simple, traditional song, even a hymn, provided much contrast to the effervescence of the outer movements.

Listening to this recording, one’s mind goes back to the fact that Türk himself was a fastidious pianist; his personal musical voice and ideas on keyboard playing formulated in the “Klavierschule” treatise have found expression in this groundbreaking recording. Recorded in 2012 for World Première Recordings, Dr. Michael Tsalka is offering the listening public the chance to hear these seldom-heard, immensely pianistic works and on keyboard instruments not, for obvious reasons, played in most concert halls. With superb technique at his disposal, Tsalka is a performer whose imagination, spontaneity and understanding of the spirit and variety offered by the musical text produce a sound canvas that is palpable, human and emotionally compelling.

No comments: