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Friedrich KUHLAU (1786-1832)
The Piano Sonatinas – A Selection

Sonatina Op. 20 No. 1 in C major
Sonatina Op. 20 No. 2 in G major
Sonatina Op. 20 No. 3 in F major
Sonatina Op. 88 No. 1 in C major
Sonatina Op. 88 No. 3 in A minor
Sonatina Op. 55 No. 4 in F major
Sonatina Op. 55 No. 5 in D major
Sonata Op. 60 No. 1 in F major
Sonata Op. 60 No. 2 in A major
Erik Fessel (piano)
Recorded at Assendrup, Østermark, April 1996


These are the famous – or if you’re a piano student, notorious - Kuhlau Sonatinas. They do tend to be churned out come examination time though that’s not to say that they’re arid examples, though it is to say that contemporary publishers did have more than one eye on the market for instructional material. They have plenty of up and down scalar writing and they do make demands on the technique though less so on matters of interpretive intimacy. Kulhau showed in his vocal works that he’d lent an ear to Schubert and there are hints that those influences had seeped into his piano writing. That said, it’s true to say that if they had it’s more like the piano writing of the Violin Sonatas (or Sonatinas) than the bigger solo piano works.

The abiding influence however is Mozart’s. There are some surprises along the way, such as the lively clop of the Allegro Scherzando that ends the G major, Op.20 No.2 and the Alla Polacca that gives such free rein for display in the F major from the same set. It also gives opportunities to impress with pomposo left hand articulation though I doubt any student could begin to match Erik Fessel at such points. The Andantino of Op.88 No.1 is explicitly and attractively vocal, with its strong right hand melody line and simple, supportive left. The Alla Polacca finale (again) of the F major Op.55 No.4 has a sprightly strut and tests accurate rhythm. The Op.60 Sonatinas use variations on themes from Rossini’s Armida – like Beethoven, Rossini was a definite influence on Kuhlau but neither influence is really evident in these Sonatinas.

Fessel plays them adroitly and with simplicity; the recording level is not over scaled and the acoustic is warm. There’s certainly some charm in these miniatures though the music is deliberately circumscribed to suit its market.

Jonathan Woolf

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