WORKS: Piano Quartet in C minor; Piano Quartet in A; Piano Quartet in G minor; Violin Sonata in F minor
PERFORMER: Elisabeth Westenholz (piano), Tutter Givskov (violin), Lars Grunth (viola), Asger Lund Christiansen (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.224044/5
Of German descent, Friedrich Kuhlau (1786-1832) became a seminal force in early Danish Romanticism. Appointed court chamber musician in Copenhagen in 1814, Kuhlau worked entirely without payment until 1818. Thereafter, his miserly stipend was bolstered by income from a prolific number of compositions, though he died in abject poverty. His three piano quartets (and one surviving string quartet) represent the zenith of his attainment in formal genres.
These performances are generally accomplished, and recordings are serviceable, though dry-sounding. The beginning of Kuhlau’s C minor Piano Quartet scarcely conceals its debt to Beethoven (specifically, the Third Piano Concerto), but the material is characterful, and not even the sprawling 16-minute opening Allegro outstays its welcome. Its G minor companion is often reminiscent of Mozart’s Piano Quartet in this key, K478, while Kuhlau’s A major Quartet is considered to be his finest chamber work. Its themes are boldly sculpted (the Adagio is hauntingly eloquent), and the double-fugue finale is ingeniously crafted. This Danish team plays with aplomb and sensitivity throughout, but Givskov’s account of the F minor Violin Sonata is patchy, with several worrying blemishes during the spirited closing rondo. A useful release, nonetheless. Michael Jameson