Josef Martin Kraus was the almost exact contemporary of Mozart, and as a matter of fact one of his last compositions was a song on the occasion of the great composer's death. Such parallels have led to Kraus being labelled »the Swedish Mozart« (in spite of his German origins) but this is misleading: Kraus was a highly original composer in his own right, as shown by the large-scale Sonata in E major on this disc where remnants of the musical Sturm und Drang are combined with classical elements and early hints of the approaching Romantic era.
Indeed Haydn, who Kraus met in Vienna in 1782, remembered him much later as »one of the greatest geniuses I have met«, lamenting his demise as »an irreplaceable loss to our art.« First and foremost a composer of operas and orchestral music – Haydn treasured a copy of his Symphony in C minor – Kraus wrote a small amount of works for the piano, all of which are included on the present disc. They range from incidental pieces such as the Swedish Dance, an idealized imitation of folk music, and the Two Curious Minuets (probably written as a musical dig at Johann Nikolaus Forkel, known to posterity mainly for his biography of J. S. Bach) to the two ambitious Sonatas.
The various facets of this intriguing composer are demonstrated here by Ronald Brautigam, whose recordings of the complete solo piano works by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven (an ongoing cycle) on the fortepiano has received high acclaim worldwide: »Brautigam finds more colour in the fortepiano than any other player I have heard«, »one of the most discerning Haydn pianists around« and »an artist fully in tune with the both the composer and his idiom« are only some of the comments made by reviewers.
»It almost goes without saying that Brautigam revels in the effectiveness of this music on such a marvellous instrument. His effortless technique brings out all of the charm and, where necessary, the Sturm und Drang passion to Kraus's sometimes remarkably adventurous piano writing. The recording is placed in a Church acoustic with a generous reverberation. This helps the atmosphere, without detracting from the all-important detail in this music. I congratulate Bis's engineer Ingo Petry on the sound of this recording: one has the feeling one is being given a one-to-one private recital, seated a comfortable distance from the piano, but still able to see every bead of sweat on the player's forehead. I find myself increasingly drawn to the fortepiano sound, and be warned – modern instruments can end up sounding quite flat and dull by comparison.« Musicweb-International 05 / 2006
Piano Sonata in E major, Vb. 196: 1. Vivace
Piano Sonata in E major, Vb. 196: 2. Adagio
Piano Sonata in E major, Vb. 196: 3. Andantino con variazioni
Piano Sonata in E flat major, Vb. 195: 1. Allegro moderato
Piano Sonata in E flat major, Vb. 195: 2. Andante con variazioni
Piano Sonata in E flat major, Vb. 195: 3. Allegro ma non troppo presto
Rondo for piano in F major, Vb. 191
Scherzo con variazioni, for piano in C major, Vb. 193
Swedish Dance, for piano, Vb. 192
Zwei neue kuriose Minuetten, for piano, Vb. 190