Kuhlau: Piano Quartets Nos. 1 & 2
08 September 2015
American Record Guide
Stephen WrightDaCapo released the complete Kuhlau piano quartets on a two-disc set in 1996
, and nearly 20 years later have seen fit to do it all over again, or at least Kuhlau’s first two quartets so far, this time in plush 5.0 multichannel SACD glory.Was it worth it?
That depends on how much you prize sweet, clean string intonation. DaCapo’s first go at these works, deleted but still available as downloads and in secondhand markets, has plenty of excitement and an aggressive, forward piano but compromised string tone. This new offering is just the opposite: piano a bit recessed and reticent but refined, gorgeous strings, and weaker bass. The Copenhagens are also slower in all but one of the seven movements, befitting their more careful, controlled, and manicured approach. Combine the visceral thrill of the 1996 recording with the refined strings of this one and you’d have an ideal presentation— alas.The quartets were written in 1821 and 1832
and sound like early Beethoven; in fact you’ll hear a few direct quotes from Beethoven. The piano part, also reveling in early Beethoven-type figuration and style, is dominant and very demanding in that late 18th-Century fashion familiar from Clementi, Dussek, Ries, and their ilk; but these are not concertos-in-miniature. There are plenty of interesting solos, lots of counterpoint and dialog among strings and piano, and Quartet 1 even includes a lengthy fugue in its finale. Kuhlau is best in fast movements, where the elan of the piano writing distracts from the rather wan and derivative musical inspiration.Frankly, I prefer DaCapo’s earlier integrale
of these not very original, backward-looking works, but if you must have immaculate string tone or prefer a less aggressive piano, this beautiful, well-balanced SACD might be just what you’re looking for. There is no audible difference between the stereo and multichannel programs, so listeners lacking SACD capability won’t miss anything.