Kuhlau: Overtures

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LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Overtures
PERFORMER: Danish National RSO/Michael Schønwandt
In 1825 Friedrich Kuhlau spent an evening with Beethoven. They wandered the streets making up canons and drinking vast quantities of champagne. Neither could recollect how the evening ended. But Kuhlau demonstrated his friendship and admiration for the older composer in his music, for instance by using the repeated chords of the Eroica and transforming the Prometheus theme in two of his overtures. German by birth, Kuhlau fled the country to avoid being conscripted into the French army and settled in Denmark. Despite losing an eye in childhood, he became an accomplished musician and a cosmopolitan composer who made it his business to keep in touch with musical progress elsewhere in Europe. Thus, in his operas, mainly written for Copenhagen’s Royal Theatre, the beginnings of a Romantic style emerge much at the same time as Rossini and Weber were developing similar ideas further south. The parody falls short of plagiarism by virtue of original touches and some excellent tunes from within the operas themselves.


Kuhlau is better known today for his flute music, a reputation supported by his orchestral writing for woodwind, with elegant and finely contoured melodic lines. The horns of the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra have a tough obbligato solo in the overture to Lulu, an opera based on the same source as The Magic Flute. Otherwise this is routine, jolly and effective music which benefits from performances never less than sparkling and crisply recorded. Christopher Lambton