Kuhlau Quartets Echo Beethoven

Friedrich Kuhlau wasn’t just an admirer of Beethoven – they were friends during the last part of Beethoven’s life. And perhaps its because of that close association that the two piano quartets on this release share some similarities to Beethoven’s chamber music.

In addition to being an amazingly prolific composer, Kuhlau was also a virtuoso pianist and a master of counterpoint — both qualities figure prominently in these quartets. The piano parts are extremely challenging, although they never threaten to overwhelm the rest of the ensemble. Both have extended fugal sections that (to my ears) are impeccably crafted.

Kuhlau completed his Piano Quaretet no. 1 in C minor, Op. 32 in 1821, and the influence of Beethoven is strong. And no wonder — Kuhlau used thematic material his friend’s third piano concerto in the opening movement. While Kuhlau goes a different direction with the material, the stylistic resemblences remain. Like Beethoven, Kuhlau uses motivic development to move his music forward.

Piano Quartet No. 2 in A major, Op. 50 was written ten years later, and Kulau keeps up with the times. While there’s still a Beethovenian character to the music, the expansiveness of the movements and the more lyrical approach to the melodic material reminded me a little of Schubert — especially in the Scherzo where Kuhlau incorporates a ländler.

The Copenhagen Piano Quartet perform with pristine accuracy as ensemble, which works very well for the contrapuntal sections. Yet they play with the emotive energy this music needs. While Kuhlau may not be as stormy as Beethoven, he still packs plenty of drama into his music. And on that, the Copenhagen Piano Quartet delivers.

Friedrich Kuhlau: Piano Quartets 1 & 2
Copenhagen Piano Quartet
Dacapo SACD 6.220596

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