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Friedrich KUHLAU (1786–1832)
Grand Trio in B minor, Op. 90 (1828) [18.37]
Trio in D major, Op. 13, No. 1 (1815) [16.17]
Trio in G minor, Op. 13, No. 2 (1815) [7.53]
Trio in F major, Op. 13, No. 3 (1815) [9.03]
Trio in E minor, Op. 86, No. 1 (1827) [19.45]
European Flute Trio (Maxence Larrieu, Carlo De Matola, Antonio De Matola)
rec. 14-15 January 2004, Executive Studio, Naples, Italy
NAXOS 8.570220 [71.50]


Kuhlau is a composer whose name you might have heard, or whose music you might just have come across in one of those albums of teaching pieces. He came from a musical family in Germany, son and grandson of town and regimental musicians. He studied in Hamburg with a pupil of C.P.E. Bach.

In 1804, still in Hamburg, he started his career as a pianist. But in 1810 the city was invaded by Napoleon and Kuhlau avoided military service only because he was blind in one eye - the result of a childhood accident.

He fled to Copenhagen where he attempted to establish himself as a pianist and composer making his first appearance as a pianist at court in 1811. Naturalised in 1813, he received a court appointment, but this remained largely unpaid. He had some success with his singspiel Robber's Castle and made a name for himself as a pianist throughout Scandinavia. Joined in Scandinavia by his parents and sisters who were financially dependent on him; despite his successes, his life seems to have remained something of a financial struggle.

He visited Berlin, Leipzig and Vienna on occasions. In 1825 he managed to spend the evening with Beethoven and friends though the alcoholic haze meant that he had no strong recollections of this meeting.

In 1830 his parents died. The year after there was a serious fire at his house near Copenhagen and a large number of his unpublished compositions were destroyed. This seems to have had a deleterious effect on his health and he died in 1832.

His surviving body of music includes quite a bit of chamber music for flute; his Sonatas for Flute and Piano published in 1827, earned him the nickname 'the Beethoven of the Flute'. Kuhlau did not play the flute, but benefited from the advice of a flautist in the Copenhagen theatre orchestra. His flute pieces include duos, trios and quartets for unaccompanied flutes.

On this disc the European Flute Trio play five of Kuhlau's flute trios. The Grand Trio in B minor, op. 90 was published in 1828 and is the most virtuosic of all the pieces on the disc. The three trios op. 13, were published in 1815, and the Trio in E minor, op. 86 no. 1 was published in 1827.

Kuhlau wrote quite a bit of salon music and the salon is never very far away in these piece, no matter how classically and seriously they are constructed. The Grand Trio has a strong whiff of the virtuoso salon showpiece which was popular in the 19th century. The remaining trios are charming works, quite substantial in length. They were probably written for talented amateurs to play rather than as concert works.

The European Flute Trio (Antonio De Matola, Maxence Larrieu and Carlo de Matola) play these pieces as if to the manner born. They have no trouble at all with the virtuoso elements required and produce cascades of beautiful, liquid sounds. The three players balance nicely and create a good feeling of ensemble whilst remaining three distinct voices. Both De Matolas were pupils of Maxence Larrieu, which probably helps with the group's cohesion.

There were occasions when I thought that the recording was a little too close: we can hear slightly too much detail in the breath and beating in the flute tone. But this is a small point and does not prevent enjoyment.

Frankly, I was rather surprised at how much I enjoyed this disc. A whole CD of music for three unaccompanied flutes could be a little daunting. But Kuhlau's music has charm, lightness and strength of construction and this is brought out in these performances.

Do try the disc, you will hear some charming music and some superb flute playing. 

Robert Hugill 




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