Scintillating Kuhlau

The music of Friedrich Kuhlau (1786-1832) may not be particularly well-known, but listening to his chamber music output, and not least his vast array of piano music, will confirm that he is in fact a composer of distinction.

Having already made very fine recordings of Kuhlau’s piano quartets, Danish label Dacapo has now launched a complete recording of his works for solo piano. They have a chosen a truly outstanding pianist for the task: Marie-Luise Bodendorff, like Kuhlau, from Germany but a resident of Copenhagen since 2012, when she took up studies with Professor Niklas Sivelöv at the Royal Danish Academy of Music. Since her debut in 2014, Marie-Luise Bodendorff has played a number of concerts in Denmark and abroad, and won numerous prizes in international competitions. In addition to this she also teaches piano and chamber music at the RDAM.

The first volume opens with the Divertissement op. 37 from 1822. It certainly shows the influence of Beethoven, but at the same time has several elements that very much bear the hallmark of Kuhlau’s own personal style. Furthermore, it is hightly original structurally, its five movements played continually to form a whole, thus reminding one of Schubert’s “Wanderer-Fantasie”, incidentally written in the same year, 1822. Aside from the Maestoso introduction, I found the scintillating fourth movement Rondo alla polacca particularly memorable.

The three Sonatinas op. 20 also shows the influence of other composers, such as Mozart, Haydn and Clementi. They may have been written for educational purposes, but they are certainly not for beginners, and they make delightful listening. The middle movement of the third sonatina, the Larghetto, is typical of Kuhlau’s melodical invention and ingenuity on a smaller scale. Indeed, I would imagine all three are most gratifying to play for talented students.

Kuhlau’s first Piano Sonata op. 4 was written before his arrival in Denmark, and again its five-movement structure is unusual. This is a totally absorbing work, from the grandiose Largo assai first movement to the sparkling Vivacissimo finale. Marie-Luise Bodendorff’s virtuosic skills come into their own here, as in everything on this lovely disc. She interprets this highly attractive music with her customary intelligence, conveying its varying moods, aided and abetted by her immaculate technique and innate musicalíty.

Recorded in the wonderful concert hall of the Royal Danish Academy of Music, the sound is exceptionally fine. Detailed and spacious, it is very close to perfection, thanks to producer and engineer Daniel Davidsen. Very impressive!

Volume 2 is scheduled for release in March – definitely not to be missed!

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