Friedrich Kuhlau, the cosmopolitan German who became one of the leaders of the early nineteenth-century Danish composition school – he never learned to speak Danish, by the way – had an affable line in chamber music. He has long been remembered for his flute music, a viewpoint that has somewhat skewed appreciation of his large-scale compositions, but which is also unavoidable in this disc, the first volume in a series devoted to his violin sonatas.
The sonata in E flat major, Op.64, was originally written for flute and piano in 1825. Three decades later and long after the composer’s death, it was published in London in a version for violin. Without any equivocation the enthusiastic booklet notes declare it a masterpiece. It’s an attractive work, certainly, with a concertante-styled role for the violin (or indeed flute) which alternates between lyricism and enjoyment of the dotted rhythms. This communicates alternate languor and urgency; feelings well and appropriately conveyed by the stylish and elegantly small-scaled duo of Duo Åstrand/Salo, which is to say Christina Åstrand (violin) and Per Salo (piano).
The slow movement, a theme and sequence of variations on a ballad theme, enshrines a cadential paragraph for the violin. This movement is significant in being the first time Kuhlau had used an authentic Danish folk-song in a chamber work, as opposed to one of his songs. There are some Beethovenian hunting motifs in the finale but some correspondingly fine cantilena in the B section. Altogether this is a pleasing work, expertly constructed and populated with fine melodies. I don’t think it’s a masterpiece but it’s very listenable and sets a high standard for Danish chamber works in the ensuing decades.
The three Op.79 sonatas are lighter affairs, somewhat Schubertian in fact. The first, in F major, has pastoral charm, and a genial and modest lied-like quality in the slow movement. The A minor, the central sonata of the three, has a more involved opening movement and has greater contrasts throughout, too, which gives it a greater sense of scope. The Polonaise finale also adds to the variety. The last of the three is in C major, and its little harmonic twists and turns are deftly done. The aria-like slow movement is the most extended of the three slow movements from the Op.79 set and possibly the best. The confident Rondo finale is crisply done. Later on all three were arranged for flute, perhaps inevitably.
The performances are stylish and deft, and appropriately modest where need be. They’ve been well recorded. Altogether this is a good start to the series.
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