It seems futile to mention Woelfl's music without some reference to the over-arching influence of Beethoven, but this compilation suggests that Woelfl, removed from any contextual reference to his slightly older contemporary, was a talented and unique composer in his own right, if not of titanic proportions.
Woelfl is one of the few 'colleagues' that was held in some esteem by Beethoven, and fared comparatively well in his opinion in contrast with composers like Steibelt, whom Beethoven openly mocked (or 'spoofed', so to speak) in a public contest.
Many contemporary accounts claimed that Beethoven 'trounced' Woelfl in a private contest held on a fateful day in 1798; a time when both composers have already earned considerable fame in the city of Vienna. Accounts were by no means consistent - ranging from a near total 'defeat' of Woelfl to more favourable accounts on his side, praising his bravura playing above that of Beethoven's while the latter was said to have excelled over his colleague in terms of improvisation. This account by a certain aristocrat smacked curiously of a certain hypocrisy reminsicent of the Clementi-Mozart contest more than a decade earlier - the truth of which remains a myth.
That both were the most formidable pianists in Vienna in 1798 (inclusive of J. N. Hummel) was however of little doubt. The vast majority of Woelfl's works had probably 'rightfully' been consigned to oblivion, but Nakamatsu had made a very strong case for Woelfl, that he was probably a very competent composer at his best - and this is testified by the Sonata in C minor Op. 25; a work of enormous proportion for its day - writ large in five movements (or parts).
The Allegro Molto and Allegretto both showcase the legendary virtuosity of Woelfl held in such towering esteem in his day, even by Beethoven; rapid running arpeggios in both hands that convey the highest drama and urgency and practically all the stock-and-trade of classical Viennese pianism is laid bare in this work. The slow movement shows that Woelfl is capable of profundity as well as bravura.
Probably little of Woelfl's extensive oeuvre measures up to this work (having heard some of the Op. 28 sonatas). The closest to rubbing the genius of this work comes from the Op. 33 set, which contains the D minor sonata, a work very reminiscent of Beethoven's earlier style, though very much more modest in its scope and demands than the Op. 25 in C minor.
Nakamatsu's first-rate playing surely places these sonatas by Woelfl among the ranks of Beethoven's better and more powerful works, in terms of their craftmanship and their surprising adaptability to the sonorities of the modern concert grand. Most of all it offers the best insight to the reason why Woelfl was probably the most esteemed pianist in Vienna held in such regard by Beethoven and beyond that, offers the listener a chance to appreciate the merits of Woelfl on his own.