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Friedrich KUHLAU (1786-1832)
Violin Sonatas - Volume One
Sonata for Violin and Piano in E flat Major, op. 64 (1825/1855) [25:10]
Sonata for Violin and Piano in F Major, op. 79 no. 1 (c. 1827) [13:30]
Sonata for Violin and Piano in A minor, op. 79 no. 2 (c. 1827) [15:08]
Sonata for Violin and Piano in C Major, op. 79 no. 3 (c. 1827) [15:46]
Christina Åstrand (violin); Per Salo (piano)
rec. Studio 4, DK Koncerthuset, Copenhagen, 24-28 June 2013
DACAPO 8.226082 [69:34]

Regarded by many as a somewhat enigmatic figure in Danish music, Kuhlau was actually born near Lüneburg in Germany. In 1810, he fled to Copenhagen to avoid conscription into the Napoleonic Army, becoming a Danish citizen in 1813. By the time he arrived in Denmark, Kuhlau had already begun to make a name for himself in Germany as a composer and concert pianist. He soon began to further his career in Copenhagen. In his lifetime, Kuhlau came to be regarded as a leading concert pianist in Denmark as well as a composer of opera, with his incidental music for the play Elverhøj (Elves' Hill), being regarded as the first work of Danish National Romanticism. Whilst in his role as a concert pianist he introduced many of Beethoven's works, a composer he greatly admired, to Copenhagen audiences. Kuhlau was regarded as something of a prolific composer, with over two hundred published works, and nearly as many un-published works; this despite a fire in his home destroying a lot of his unpublished music. He is regarded as a leading light in the Danish Golden Age and the father of Danish opera, although he is primarily remembered for his flute music. It was this that earned him the nicknamed of "the Beethoven of the flute" during his lifetime (review ~ review ~ review).
Stylistically Kuhlau’s music can be characterised by the current trends of the day, with the music of the later German Classical and early Romantic composers. These were seen to have had an influence upon his own compositional development, with Beethoven being chief amongst them. Kuhlau's C major Piano Concerto, Op. 7 from 1810 (review ~ review) displays a strong influence from Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major. The similarities are so strong in places that some commentators have described it as a pastiche of the great man's work. These influences can be seen in Kuhlau’s chamber music too, with his violin sonatas being no different in this respect.
When looking through a list of the composer's works you are left wondering just how Dacapo are going to manage to fill a second volume. As far as I can see the following are the only other works that mention the violin: the Op. 33 Sonata, an Op. 6b work for piano with optional violin part and Op. 110/WoO 227 composed for flute and piano with arrangements for violin instead of the flute. A closer look reveals the Op. 64 Sonata, recorded here and originally composed for flute and piano. Its optional violin part is from an English edition published 23 years after the composer’s death; whatever the case, it works well. This Sonata is quite ambitious and by far the longest work on the disc. Its Romantic nature brings together Danish folk music and the clear influence of Beethoven.
The three Sonatas Op. 79 are all charming and relatively short. Although they were only composed a couple of years after Op. 64 they seem much later in development and originality, with any musical influences being merely implied. The Sonata in A minor is my personal favourite, with its attractive and well developed opening Allegro leading to a lilting second movement Andantino, ending with an elaborate Rondo: Alla polacca, the finest Rondo of the these three sonatas. It's a short but perfectly formed sonata. All three comprising Op. 79 seem to offer a more personal insight into Kuhlau the composer and his individual style.
The playing throughout is first rate. Christina Åstrand and Per Salo certainly have the measure of this attractive music, with their performance being well captured. Good booklet notes add to ones enjoyment of this attractive and interesting music.
Stuart Sillitoe