> KUHLAU Flute sonatas 8555346 [TH]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Friedrich KUHLAU (1786 – 1823)
Sonatas for Flute and Piano, Op.83

Sonata for Flute and Piano in G major, Op. 83, No.1
Sonata for Flute and Piano in C major, Op. 83, No.2
Sonata for Flute and Piano in G minor, Op. 83, No.3

Uwe Grodd (flute) Matteo Napoli (piano)
Recorded in the Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand, August 2000
NAXOS 8.555346 [ 66 :47 ]


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If you ask any music lover which composer other than Berg wrote an opera called Lulu, as well as one called William Shakespeare, I wonder what they would say? The answer is Friedrich Kuhlau, the German composer who settled in Denmark, an exact contemporary of Weber and similarly short-lived.

He is probably best known for his piano sonatinas, which still crop up with monotonous regularity as exam set-pieces. In fact, he has been re-evaluated of late as an important figure in early Danish romanticism, and the three mature sonatas gathered together on this disc apparently earned him the enviable title ‘the Beethoven of the flute’.

The nickname is not without its aptness, as the shadow of the master looms large in these works. He had in fact met and shared musical jokes with Beethoven whilst visiting Vienna in the 1820s, and the formal layout of each piece clearly mirrors the classical structures of Mozart and Beethoven, particularly the latter’s middle-period piano sonatas.

It seems that Kuhlau did not play the flute himself but sought technical advice from a friend in the theatre orchestra in Copenhagen. The G major First Sonata seems to me most memorable for its minor-key slow movement, built around variations on a Swedish song ‘Sorrow’s Might’. The brilliant finale, with its Andante sostenuto central episode, finishes with a Beethovenian flourish on the piano.

The dramatic C minor slow introduction to the Second Sonata cannot escape comparison either, and as the piano launches into a vivacious C major Allegro, one is constantly reminded of all those great models of the past. In fact the tunefulness, coupled with the major/minor feel of so much of the material, had me in mind of Schubert, another near contemporary.

It is fitting that the set should end with probably the best of the bunch, a sonata employing all the dramatic elements that its key of G minor would suggest. The hymn-like lyricism of the slow movement is varied and contrasted as it proceeds, with the initial calm finally being restored. The jubilant Rondo alla polacca finale is a fitting end, offering opportunity for both players to revel in the brilliant sparkle of the writing.

The performances by two names new to me are generally of a very high standard, though a shade more warmth wouldn’t have gone amiss in some of the more lyrical passages. The pianist appears to drive much of time in some of the allegros (possibly Kuhlau reflecting his own virtuosity on that instrument) and Matteo Napoli rises to the occasion admirably.

The slightly resonant recording should not put anyone off investigating this disc, another good example of Naxos allowing us to experience unfamiliar yet rewarding territory.

Tony Haywood

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