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Friedrich KUHLAU (1786-1832)
The Complete Flute Duos and Divertissements Opp. 10, 102, 68: Duo 1 Op. 10 [17:41]; Duo 2 Op. 10 [13:05]; Duo 3 Op. 10 [8:38]; Divertissement 1 Op. 68 [8:08]; Divertissement 2 Op. 68 [6:33]; Divertissement 3 Op. 68 [6:27]; Divertissement 4 Op. 68 [6:51]; Divertissement 5 Op. 68 [8:37]; Divertissement 6 Op. 68 [8:31]; Duet 1 Op. 102 [14:45]; Duet 2 Op. 102 [13:45]; Duet 3 Op. 102 [13:53]
Laurel Zucker (flute 1)
Renée Siebert (flute 2)
rec. Concordia College, New York. No dates given.
CANTILENA 66018-2 [60:10 + 56:41]
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Kuhlau, quite famous in his time, is not a name often on one’s lips today. Born in Uelzen in north Germany to a musical family, he lost an eye when he slipped on ice at the age of seven. During his convalescence a piano was moved nearby. He took to the instrument. Though many would see the fall as a tragic event, he considered the accident a fortunate occurrence, crediting it as the reason he became a musician.

He received very little formal training or education. When Hamburg was annexed to the French in 1810, he fled to Denmark, where his connections afforded him an introduction to the Queen’s court. He wrote variations for piano, songs and chamber music. His attempts at fame with larger-scale works such as operas and oratorios, were met with a wide-ranging degree of success: Røverbergen (Robber’s Castle) and Lulu with accolades; The Magic Harp and Elisa were disastrous financial failures. He got on rather well with Beethoven, who composed a canon, playing on Kuhlau’s name in the title "Kühl, nicht lau" (Cool, not lukewarm) during a beverage-enhanced evening.

Based on what I could gather in my research - no information on the pieces is provided in the booklet - the Op. 10 flute duos were almost certainly composed in Denmark, during the early part of his stay there. Op. 102 looks to have been composed in either 1828 or 1829, after his return to Denmark from time spent in Sweden. I wasn’t able to dredge up enough information to determine when the Op.68 Divertissements were composed.

All of the works here are very pleasant listening; almost all are in the usual sonata form with recapitulation of the opening theme at the end. Considering the large time-frame between these pieces - early, middle and late career - the style and tone are consistent throughout. One notable transitional moment in the second movement of the Duo No. 2 Op. 102 has a deliberate repeated minor second interval, but all too soon resolves into sunny consonance. Not particularly adventuresome regarding tonality or form, the pieces remain enjoyable, though the uniformity of sound and style tends to become a bit monotonous over two hours of listening.

The pieces on this double CD set are all recorded with just enough distance to give a good sense of acoustics, but close enough for good presence when played through a variety of sound systems, from the computer to car stereo to a high-end rig. The tone during the forte high-register passages is never shrill, and Zucker and Siebert work very well together, with no balance issues.

I will have to agree with other reviewers regarding this and previous releases on Cantilena: works such as these deserve background information and commentary. Though the label itself focuses on the performances of Laurel Zucker, the notes for the individual releases should concentrate on the pieces played. Overall, though, this set represents a pleasant performance of pleasant, rarely-heard works.

David Blomenberg



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