Friedrich Kuhlau: Klaverkvartetter 1 & 2
25 June 2015
Jeremy NicholasFriedrich Daniel Rudolph Kuhlau
(1786–1832): a good subject for a pub quiz. Can you name a one-eyed composer? Who, besides Berg, wrote an opera called Lulu? Poor Kuhlau doesn’t get much of a look in these days—a shame, because he is a most interesting composer. Not an Olympian but a gifted melodist and craftsman whose prolific output extended to successful operas, myriad flute studies (he was known as ‘the Beethoven of the flute’, despite not playing the instrument) and, as any fledgling pianist will know, numerous piano sonatinas (which of us has not played the C major, Op 20 No 1?). Kuhlau’s reverence for and friendship with Beethoven informed much of his music
. His C major Piano Concerto is closely modelled on Beethoven’s (try Michael Ponti’s superb recording—Unicorn-Kanchana, 9/91—if you can track it down) and the first movement of his C minor Piano Quartet borrows thematic material from Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto. If you like your mid-period Beethoven chamber music with more than a dash of Hummel and Weber, then you’ll enjoy the results. After an Adagio (A flat major, not A major as the booklet says) comes a lively finale complete with wellworked fugue (Beethoven jokingly referred to Kuhlau as ‘der grosse Kanonier’).Kuhlau was a brilliant pianist
and the four-movement Piano Quartet No 2, written about the same time (early 1820s) as No 1, has a no less demanding piano part. It is the bolder, more inventive work of the two with a final Allegro di molto in which, as the booklet puts it, ‘Kuhlau demonstrates his contrapuntal mastery and the refined ear for harmony that one has to go to the greatest composers of the age to match’.
Ilona Prunyi and the New Budapest Quartet recorded both works in 1992 for Marco Polo. The recording and their playing are less refined than the Copenhagen Quartet’s and are less pleasurable to listen to, though their faster movements are more flamboyant and the piano is beneficially slightly better integrated with the strings.
But no: let’s have the Third Quartet and some more Kuhlau from these fine young Danish musicians.