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Friedrich Kuhlau: Piano Sonatinas / Eric Fessel


Release Date: 04/01/2005 
Label:  Danacord   Catalog #: 622   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Friedrich Kuhlau
Performer:  Eric Fessel
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 17 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

It seems a lifetime ago that I acquired a Marco Polo CD of two piano quartets by Friedrich Kuhlau (1786–1832), and promptly fell in love, again. And thus began an affair that led me to discover a rich mine of mostly chamber works and some of the most beautiful music I know. Here was a composer whose life bridged those of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Hummel, Schubert, Weber, Mendelssohn, and Spohr, who knew and fraternized with a number of them, and whose music seemed to draw on the spirit of several of them. One is immediately taken with Kuhlau’s Haydnesque classical poise and clarity of statement, Mozartean elegance and sophistication, and Mendelssohnian ease and fluidity of expression. But most of all, it is Schubert, I think, who hovers Read more over Kuhlau’s shoulder. The instances of melodic invention and sudden darkening of harmony that turn gaiety into heartbreak are numerous and arresting.

Kuhlau has come to be classified as a Danish composer, though he was born in a province of North Germany between Hanover and Hamburg, spent much of his life on German and Austrian soil, and even after settling in Denmark, never learned to speak the Danish language with any fluency. His career was not marked by early successes. His music was largely ignored by the major publishing houses, and to earn a living he was forced to teach, (which he hated) and to churn out reams of easy pieces for piano and for flute (the latter being his main instrument) intended for student learning purposes. This large body of works—of which the sonatinas on this disc are a part—earned Kuhlau the dubious distinction of being called “Sultan of the Classical Sonatina” and “Beethoven of the Flute.” It wasn’t until he settled in Denmark that Kuhlau began to enjoy wider appreciation for his operas and incidental music based on or fashioned from Danish folklore themes. A tune from one such work, “King Christian Stood by the Loft Mast,” from the composer’s singspiel, Elverhøj (“Elf’s Hill”), became one of Denmark’s two official national anthems.

Though my collection of Kuhlau is respectable, until now it has consisted mainly of the string, flute, and piano quartets, duo sonatas, and a Chandos release (9648) of orchestral overtures, which contains a selection from the aforementioned “Elf’s Hill.” This new CD, however, is my first encounter with the composer’s solo keyboard music; and while, by definition, “sonatinas” are bound to be of a more modest scale, the nine examples chosen here by pianist Erik Fessel contain in miniaturized form all of the elements noted above. Among Kuhlau’s extensive catalog of works—which includes no fewer than five operas, incidental music, piano concertos, chamber music, solo piano pieces, and a large volume of flute music—the sonatinas recorded here were explicitly written and published for students. This may make them technically less formidable than works that require a high level of virtuosic proficiency, but it does not detract from their charm or genuine quality. I am very much reminded in fact of a CD of Schubert Ländler and German Dances that came very close to making my 2003 Want List.

Erik Fessel, now in his early seventies, was born in Copenhagen, graduated from the Danish Academy of Music, and pursued advanced studies in Vienna with Paul Badura-Skoda, Jörg Demus, and Alfred Brendel. From the pieces on this CD, one cannot speculate on Fessel’s abilities to play Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto, but for the task at hand his technical abilities and musical instincts are more than well-suited. This is a lovely recording, and one I can recommend without reservation. If it whets your appetite for more Kuhlau, all the better.

Jerry Dubins, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

1. Sonatinas (4) for Piano, Op. 88: no 1 in C major by Friedrich Kuhlau
Performer:  Eric Fessel (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1827; Denmark 
Date of Recording: 04/1996 
Venue:  Assendrup Ostermark, Denmark 
Length: 6 Minutes 24 Secs. 
2. Sonatinas (4) for Piano, Op. 88: no 3 in A minor by Friedrich Kuhlau
Performer:  Eric Fessel (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1827; Denmark 
Date of Recording: 04/1996 
Venue:  Assendrup Ostermark, Denmark 
Length: 6 Minutes 44 Secs. 
3. Sonatinas (6) for Piano, Op. 55: no 4 in F major by Friedrich Kuhlau
Performer:  Eric Fessel (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1823; Copenhagen, Denmark 
Date of Recording: 04/1996 
Venue:  Assendrup Ostermark, Denmark 
Length: 8 Minutes 36 Secs. 
4. Sonatinas (6) for Piano, Op. 55: no 5 in D major by Friedrich Kuhlau
Performer:  Eric Fessel (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1823; Copenhagen, Denmark 
Date of Recording: 04/1996 
Venue:  Assendrup Ostermark, Denmark 
Length: 5 Minutes 17 Secs. 
5. Sonatinas (3) for Piano, Op. 60: no 1 in F major by Friedrich Kuhlau
Performer:  Eric Fessel (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1824 
Date of Recording: 04/1996 
Venue:  Assendrup Ostermark, Denmark 
Length: 10 Minutes 45 Secs. 
6. Sonatinas (3) for Piano, Op. 60: no 2 in A major by Friedrich Kuhlau
Performer:  Eric Fessel (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1824 
Date of Recording: 04/1996 
Venue:  Assendrup Ostermark, Denmark 
Length: 9 Minutes 6 Secs. 
7. Sonatinas (3) for Piano, Op. 20 by Friedrich Kuhlau
Performer:  Eric Fessel (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: by 1819; Denmark 

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