Friedrich Kalkbrenner Op. 4 Sonatas echo Beethoven

In his day, he was one of the most famous pianist/composers in Europe. Friedrich Kalkbrenner ruled the stage until the 1830’s. When Chopin arrived in Paris, it was recommended that he study with Kalkbrenner. Robert Schumann wasn’t quite as impressed — he thought Kalkbrenner was a show-off who wasted whatever talent he had. But perhaps, as these piano sonatas suggest, the truth is somewhere in between.

The Opus 4 sonatas were published in 1809, and have a distinctly Beethovenian character to them. Granted, its a tone tempered somewhat (Beethoven’s Appassionata was published four years before). But still, taken on their own merits, I found these works to be well-constructed and even entertaining.

Luigi Gerosa makes a strong case for the music. His playing is firm and assured, yet with a certain stormy energy that breaks through when the occasion merits. Kalkbrenner was at the forefront of piano development (he was a partner in Pleyel’s fortepiano factory), and his music takes full advantage of the range and expressive qualities of the instrument.

Although Kalkbrenner was quite prolific, he was eclipsed by a new generation of pianists, such as Chopin and Liszt. And with his decline, his music fell silent. This release is the world premiere recording of these sonatas, and I’m glad to hear them. I believe its not enough to just listen to the greats — by exploring the music of the lesser composers, I get a better idea of what the average quality of composition was at the time. And that helps me understand just how extraordinary the innovations of the greats truly are.

If you enjoy the music of Beethoven’s rivals, such as Ferdinand Ries, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Muzio Clementi, then you’ll find much to like in these Kalkbrenner sonatas. I found they had the flavor of Beethoven without the sound and fury. Enjoyable, but not essential.

Friedrich Kalkbrenner: Three Piano Sonatas, Op. 4
Luigi Gerosa, piano
Dynamic CDS 7707
World Premier Recordings

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