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Friedrich KALKBRENNER (1785-1849)
Piano Sonatas Op. 4: No. 1 in G minor [24:41]; No. 2 in C major [26:56]; No. 3 in A minor [26:06]
Luigi Gerosa (piano)
rec. 2014, Cavalli Musica, Castrezzato (BS), Italy
World première recordings
DYNAMIC CDS7707 [78:37]

As the 1700s drew to a close, the constant advancements of piano manufacturers and the now-industrial scale of production all over Europe, especially in Vienna, London and Paris, led to a new musical ‘kid on the block’ – the piano virtuoso, who not only gave public concerts in the most prestigious venues on the continent, but also composed works and wrote teaching-methods for the instrument, often competing with his colleagues while promoting a particular brand of piano. Clementi, Dussek, Hummel, Moscheles, Ries, Steibelt, Field and Cramer were among the protagonists of one of the most successful periods for the piano, which would culminate around 1830, in the birth of a type of pianism – and of virtuosity – that was radically new as to form, content and instrumental technique: the romantic pianism of Liszt, Thalberg, Chopin and Schumann.

Friedrich Kalkbrenner was another of those ‘piano virtuosi’, whose life followed the almost archetypal pattern of the others. Born in Kassel, Germany, he soon moved to Vienna, where he studied with Salieri and Albrechtsberger, and also achieved immediate success as a performer. Between 1814 and 1823 he lived in England where his musical prowess grew even more, before ultimately relocating to Paris, now wealthy and renowned. Here he collaborated closely with the Pleyel piano manufactures, while continuing to give concerts throughout Europe. But the arrival on the scene of Chopin, Thalberg and Liszt progressively obscured Kalkbrenner’s fame and, after marrying a young and rich heiress, he cut down on his public appearances, eventually succumbing to a cholera epidemic in Enghien-les-Bains in 1849, just four months before Chopin’s premature passing.

Kalkbrenner considered himself the last heir of the great classical triumvirate of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven – indeed, among the ‘piano virtuosi’ only Moscheles and Cramer actually outlived him. Chopin dedicated his E minor Piano Concerto to Kalkbrenner, who reciprocated by dedicating to the Polish composer his Variations Brillantes on a Mazurka by Chopin, Op. 120. Schumann, and wife Clara, however, were often critical of Kalkbrenner’s works, although in a review of the latter’s Piano Concerto No. 4, Op, 127, Schumann mentioned having played and enjoyed Kalkbrenner’s early sonatas, which were, in his opinion, ‘lively and very musical, and forerunners of excellent things to come’ – praise indeed from the Schumanns.

Italian-born Luigi Gerosa has already recorded Kalkbrenner’s 3 Sonatas Op, 1 (from 1807) – Dynamic CDS 7661 – and these still seem to place the composer somewhere equidistant between Haydn and Beethoven. However, the present 3 Sonatas Op 4, published in 1809, clearly show Beethoven’s influence, mostly in terms of musical of language and expressive range, but also – though, to a lesser degree – of technical difficulty, though each work still requires an accomplished player to bring it off in performance. While the first two of the Op 4 set, like their Op 1 predecessors, are three-movement works, the Sonata in A minor, Op 4 No 3, adds a brisk minuet to the mix.

The new musical spirit that enlivens these later works is evident from the very first bars of the ‘Moderato quasi Adagio’ slow introduction of the Sonata No 1 in G minor, immediately bringing to mind the opening at the start of Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata, Op 13 – or to those with perfect pitch, more accurately recalling the G minor section prior to the development. Kalkbrenner’s ‘Allegro di Molto’ which follows on, also bears more than a passing resemblance to Beethoven’s matching quick section, even by virtue of the Pathétique’s tempo indication – ‘Allegro di molto e con brio’. Other than that, Kalkbrenner keeps very much to the prescribed sonata-first-movement formula as the music unfolds. The jewel in this first sonata is undoubtedly the charmingly introspective ‘Adagio non troppo’ slow movement, whereas the concluding ‘Rondo: Presto’ is a somewhat more everyday finale, though not without some engaging moments.

In Danilo Prefumo’s comprehensive sleeve-notes – nicely translated into English from the original Italian by Daniela Pilarz – he mentions that the opening of the slow movement of the Sonata No. 2 in C major ‘vaguely recalls the opening of Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata, Op. 57’. In reality this is a rather tenuous resemblance, given that one work is in the major key, while the other is in the minor. The fact that each uses a descending tonic triad pattern (the 5th note of the scale falling to the 3rd, and then to the 1st) at the outset, is far less convincing than the much more compelling similarity between Kalkbrenner’s opening ‘Allegro Brillante’ and that of Beethoven’s early sonata in the same key, Op. 2 No. 3, and which is also noticeably more virtuosic than it two stablemates. But whereas Beethoven’s finale is a veritable pianistic tour de force, Kalkbrenner’s ‘Rondo: con anima’ is a slightly more sedate affair, perhaps looking back towards Mozart, though still not without its fair share of fireworks along the way.

The Sonata No. 3 in A minor opens with an expansive ‘Allegro Moderato’, with overall bolder pianistic gestures than hitherto in the Op. 4 set, but as with the first sonata, it is in the ensuing ‘Adagio’ that Kalkbrenner has something very special to say. Cast as a tender and highly-lyrical song, shades of Field, even Chopin are never far away, neither in sentiment nor in the more extended writing for the instrument, particularly from the left hand when accompanying the right-hand cantilena. The third movement – a Scherzo and Trio, though still labelled ‘Menuetto: Allegro di Molto’ by the composer – has a truly Schubertian lilt, especially in the outer sections, and provides an ideal link between the poetry of the slow movement and the fevered pace of the finale. The sonata ends with a brilliant and playful ‘Rondo: Molto Agitato’, that immediately calls to mind both the opening of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor, and Rossini’s ‘Barber of Seville’ Overture which, while originally conceived for another of his operas – ‘Aureliano in Palmiria’ (1813) – still appeared a few years after Kalkbrenner’s finale. Mozart’s symphony, on the other hand, predates the Kalkbrenner by over twenty years. Irrespective, it’s an exciting conclusion to the sonata, and to the set as a whole, with plenty of rapid scale passages, in particular in the left hand, and scales in double-thirds in the right.

The German surname ‘Kalkbrenner’ translates as ‘lime-burner’, and while his music isn’t necessarily destined to set the world on fire, this first-class CD – impeccably played on a Yamaha CF III full concert-grand, and equally well-recorded – is a most welcome addition to the catalogue, both as attractive writing, as well as offering an invaluable insight into the specific repertoire of the period, as one school finished and another, arguably the apotheosis of modern pianism, gradually took its place.

Philip R Buttall



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