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Early Music

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Friedrich Ludwig Aemilius KUNZEN (1761-1817)
Music for Piano

Musical Pastime for the Fair Sex (1798): Variations in F minor from "Erik Ejegod"; Minuet and Two Trios in C major; Poco Adagio in F major; Vivace in F major; Scherzando in G major; Scherzando in C major from "The Mandrake"
Sonata in C sharp minor (1789-1991): (Allegro moderato); Minuet: Allegretto; Adagio; Presto
Musical New Yearís Gift for the Fair Sex (1799): Variations in B flat major from "The Secret"; Variations in A major from "The Wine Harvest"; Minuet and Trio in A major; Vivace in A major; Andante in B flat major; Scherzando in B flat major; Divertimento in A major (1788); Scherzando in G major (1789); Larghetto in G major (1794)
Thomas Trondhejm, piano
Recorded at Royal Academy of Music, Århus, May 2002
DACAPO 8.224228 [64:43]

Friedrich Ludwig Aemilius Kunzen is one of the more obscure figures from the Classical era, but during his life he attained a lofty reputation as a composer and orchestral director. Born in Lübeck of a musical family, Kunzen eventually settled in Copenhagen and was in great demand from even the King of Denmark.

I first became familiar with Kunzenís music through a Dacapo release of the opera "Holger Danske"; his most well known composition. Although Kunzen recordings are a rare event, reviewers have uniformly found his music entertaining and expertly crafted.

The Trondhejm disc contains the entire documented piano music of Kunzen. However, there are likely many more pieces based on letters from the time that indicate that Kunzen also composed a piano concerto in addition to other piano works. Unfortunately,

these pieces have vanished without trace, and we have to content ourselves with the sixteen works on this disc.

Kunzenís piano music bears similarity with Haydnís in terms of sparkle, flow, and humor, but Haydnís music is more diverse, complicated and emotionally rich. Except for the Sonata, Kunzenís keyboard music is for domestic consumption and can be played by amateurs. A few of the pieces such as the Scherzandos in G major and C major are very simple and rather shallow, but most of the music is quite alluring and possesses delightful turns of phrasing and attractive pacing.

The three works involving variations on a basic theme are particularly rewarding as Kunzen displays a knack for giving each variation its own identity while maintaining a coherent flow. In fact, it is the Kunzen musical flow that I find most appealing throughout the disc; he was not one to indulge in long pauses and always kept his music moving forward. This is an important consideration in Kunzenís piano music, because long pauses and intervals would only reveal the lack of emotional depth.

Both the "Musical Pastime for the Fair Sex" and "Musical New Yearís Gift for the Fair Sex" consist of six pieces connected through date of composition and the wishes of publishers. Although it is unlikely that Kunzen intended these pieces to be grouped together, their combination does present the maximum variety inherent in his music.

Kunzenís Sonata in C sharp minor is somewhat unusual for its time in its use of four movements and the key of C sharp minor. This work requires greater virtuosity than his other piano music but still remains relatively light in nature. Very appealing is the 2nd movement having two minuets, the first quick and demonstrative, the second slower and dream-like. The Presto is also impressive with its generous use of counterpoint and exciting forward momentum.

Thomas Trondhejm, born in 1954, is best known for his four discs of solo piano music by the composer Friedrich Kuhlau who was born 25 years after Kunzen. Trondhejm certainly has his pulse on the music of Kunzen, fully conveying its lift and exuberance. He plays a modern piano, but idiomatic performances such as his transcend the issue of period vs. modern instrument. The recorded sound is vibrant with plenty of air and clarity.

The Trondhejm disc should appeal to enthusiasts of piano music from the Classical era. Just donít expect to hear another Haydn or Mozart, because Kunzenís artistry is at a much lower level. Also, there is some merit to the view that his music doesnít hold up well under concentrated listening.

Although I can only give the disc a mild recommendation, it is unlikely that another pianist could champion Kunzenís piano works with greater success than Trondhejm. Further, additional recordings of this music are not likely within the next few years. If you desire Kunzenís piano works, Trondhejm is an excellent guide as well as being the only game in town.

Don Satz



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