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Nikolaus Von KRUFFT (1779-1818)
Sonata for Bassoon and Fortepiano in F (1807) [28:36]
Grand Sonata for Bassoon and Fortepiano in B flat, Op.34 (1818) [32:29]
Wouter Verschuren (bassoon); Kathryn Cok (fortepiano)
rec. Laurentiuskerk, Mijnsheerenland, Netherlands, 14-16 May 2008
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72313 [61:32]
Experience Classicsonline

Insofar as Krufft is at all familiar to us these days it is primarily as a composer of lieder, in which capacity he is sometimes cited as an important influence on Schubert. So, for example, his songs are represented (alongside those of Beethoven and Lachner) on a 1998 recital by Christoph Prégardien (Teldec Das Alte Werk 21473) and on Graham Johnson’s 3 CD set of Songs by Schubert’s Friends and Contemporaries (Hyperion CDJ33051/3).

But there was more to Krufft than his songs. Indeed there was rather more than music alone. Born in Vienna, where his father was a Minister of State, he was initially given piano lessons by his mother and then studied composition with Johann Georg Albrechtsberger. Six years were spent at the university of Vienna, three years devoted to philosophy and three to law. He then gained employment as a Court and State secretary, employed by Metternich - no less - on more than one foreign trip. His official duties made considerable demands on him; but he was determined also to pursue his love of music, to which he devoted many a night of study and composition. This double life evidently took its toll; an early biographer recounts that he died of exhaustion, aged 39. In addition to his songs, he left sonatas for violin and horn and a number of works for solo keyboard, including 24 Preludes and Fugues on the model of Bach - and these two fascinating sonatas for bassoon.

These are innovative and often surprising works; they employ more of the bassoon’s range than was explored by his contemporaries; they are full of unexpected jumps and startling (but effective) modulations. The 1807 sonata is in three movements. The first begins with an adagio sostenuto that has a slightly tongue-in-cheek air of self-dramatisation and is followed by a witty and inventive allegro brillante. The central andantino is made up of a charming theme and three variations and the finale is marked “all’ Ongarese’. The whole is a delight.

The Sonata in B flat - published in the year of Krufft’s death - is a larger, more romantic work, in four movements. The grace of the opening allegro is succeeded by a lyrical adagio; in the third movement the use of fugal structures in the scherzo seems to look back to the baroque while the long and poignant melodies of the trio have a far more romantic air to them. The finale - in 6/8 - is a splendid movement, which juxtaposes lengthy melodic lines with insistently repetitive rhythmic patterns. This is work of real quality, a work which ought to be far better known.

The husband and wife team of Wouter Verschuren and Kathryn Cok are very persuasive advocates for this neglected music. Their playing is utterly idiomatic and they prove themselves well able to meet the considerable technical challenges (especially for the bassoonist) which the music sets. The period instruments on which they play add another layer of satisfaction for the listener. Verschuren plays a bassoon made by Cuvillier at St. Omer around 1810, and what a lovely and appropriate sound it makes. Cok plays a modern fortepiano of five and a half octaves, made by Gerard Tuinman in 2007, after an original by Walter and Sohn (circa 1805. it is hard to imagine two instruments - and it must be said two performers - more perfectly suited to this music.

This is a very happy discovery, which makes it clear that Nikolaus von Krufft was a considerable loss to music, both because he was never able to devote anything like his full energies to the art and because he died relatively young.

Glyn Pursglove 

 


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