Dussek: Piano Concertos (Hyperion)
★★★★ (out of five)
Jan Ladislav Dussek could have been a contender if only Mozart had been born somewhere else and at another time. Dussek (1760 to 1812) has the wrong dates and the wrong skill sets. Two bars into every movement he picks a note that you know Mozart would have declined for a better choice and, while Dussek may recover quickly and deliver a passage that could pass for Clementi at his best, your ear is already tensed for the next false turn.
Of the three concertos on offer here, two are contemporaneous with late Mozart in 1787 and 1791 yet have low opus numbers of 3 and 14. Maybe Dussek was a slow developer. The Andantino of Opus 3 has an opening statement of real interest, only to fizzle out into platitudes as the composer fails to sustain it.
The third concerto, dated 1801, is more confident and the adagio has an almost Beethovenian breadth, albeit without the basis of a gripping theme. That said, I find it fascinating to see how often Dussek just misses the main chance, settling for an acceptable phrase where Mozart would have found the note juste. Howard Shelley plays with superb conviction and the Ulster Orchestra sound pretty good. Dussek or no Dussek, this is not a wasted hour.