KUHLAU: Flute Sonatas Op. 83 (Matteo Napoli/ Tim Handley/ Uwe Grodd) (Naxos: 8.555346)
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Friedrich Kuhlau (1786-1832)
Sonatas for Flute and Piano, Op. 83
The son of an army regimental musician, grandson of an oboist and town musician, and nephew of an organist and town musician in Aalborg, Friedrich Kuhlau was born in 1786 at Uelzen, near Hanover, and moved with his family successively to Lüneburg and Brunswick. In Lüneburg he had piano lessons and started writing music, and in Brunswick completed his early education at the Katharineum. At the turn of the century he went with his parents to Hamburg, studying there with the organist, composer and mathematician Christian Friedrich Gottlieb Schwenke, who had succeeded C.P.E.Bach, his own teacher, as Hamburg Stadtkantor in 1788 and had held the position of organist at the Katherinenkirche since 1783. A year earlier C.P.E.Bach had arranged for Schwenke to study with Marpurg and Kirnberger in Berlin. In 1804 Kuhlau began his career as a pianist and remained in Hamburg until the occupation of the city by Napoleon in 1810 and the compulsion to military service, from which it seems blindness in one eye, the result of a childhood accident, would not have excluded him. He then took refuge in Copenhagen under an assumed name, attempting to establish himself there as a pianist and composer and making his first appearance as a pianist at the court in 1811. In 1813 he was naturalised and the following year was appointed a court chamber musician, a position that was unpaid until 1818, when token payment was allowed. In the same year he was joined in Denmark by his parents and sister, making it necessary to earn more money for their support, increasing his work as a concert pianist and as a teacher. In 1815 he had enjoyed success with a Singspiel, Røverborgen (Robbers Castle), at the Royal Theatre, where he found employment for a season as chorus-master and was able to have his first opera staged. At the same time he was winning a reputation as a pianist throughout Scandinavia. He visited Berlin and Leipzig on various occasions and was twice in Vienna, on the second occasion in 1825 spending an evening with Beethoven and his friends, of which subsequent memories were hazy. The party had walked in the countryside, before dining at an inn, where the consumption of champagne had a similar effect on Beethovens powers of recall, although he had written a canon punning on Kuhlaus name, to the words Kühl, nicht lau (Cool, not lukewarm), which he sent to Kuhlau, while the latter had responded with a canon on the name of Bach. In 1828 Kuhlau wrote music to celebrate a royal wedding, Elverhøj (The Elf Hill) and was awarded the title of professor with an increased stipend. In 1831 a fire at his home at Lyngby, near Copenhagen, where he had rented a house since 1826, a year after the death of his parents, not only destroyed many of his unpublished compositions and writings but had a deleterious effect on his health, leading to his death the following year.
Kuhlau, as a successful pianist and teacher, wrote a quantity of music for the piano, although his second piano concerto was destroyed in the fire of 1831. These compositions included salon music and pieces of varied technical difficulty that were of practical use in teaching. In addition to his stage works, which enjoyed variable success, he left songs and chamber music, with a particular emphasis on compositions for the flute, an instrument that it seems that he did not play himself, profiting, however, from the technical advice of a flautist in the theatre orchestra. His first attempts at writing for the flute had been in Hamburg, but it was in the 1820s that he embarked on a series of works, including the three Sonatas for flute and piano, Opus 83, published in Bonn in 1827, that earned for him the title of the Beethoven of the flute.
The Sonata in G major, Opus 83, No.1, touches on G minor almost at once and continues in a form that suggests the classical inheritance that he enjoyed, as a near contemporary of Weber, from the world of Mozart and of Beethoven. The minor-key slow movement brings variations on a Swedish song, Sorgens magt (Sorrows Might), although melancholy is dissipated in passing, before the final return of the theme. The sonata ends with a movement in which flute and piano set out to match each other in brilliance, their course interrupted by a passage marked Andante sostenuto, brought to an end by a piano cadenza.
The second of the set, the Sonata in C major, Opus 83, No.2, has further suggestions of Beethoven. The first movement has a dramatic slow introduction in C minor, before the piano launches into a C major Allegro, soon to be joined by the flute, in thematic material foreshadowed in the introduction. The E major Larghetto starts with the singing tone of the piano, soon joined by the flute. The last movement opens with a principal theme that, as so often, touches briefly on the minor, a rondo that offers both instruments a chance of display in a movement that brings episodes of distinct contrast.
The set ends with the Sonata in G minor, Opus 83, No.3. It is introduced by the piano, soon joined by the flute, in a movement that has the element of drama suggested by the choice of key. The hymn-like lyricism of the slow movement is varied as the movement proceeds, before the initial serenity is restored. The sonata ends with a Rondo alla polacca, in which an opportunity is again offered for concluding brilliance in the writing for both instruments.
The flautist Uwe Grodd has performed and recorded internationally since 1978 and is based in New Zealand. In his native Germany he studied the flute with Werner Peschke and conducting with Manfred Schreier. After graduating from Mainz University the major influences on his career came from the guidance of two of Europes finest musicians, Sergiu Celibidache and the flautist/composer Robert Aitken. Success in international master classes and competitions, including those in Lugano and Zlin, was followed by a prestigious scholarship for further studies at the Banff Centre, Canada. Uwe Grodd has performed as soloist with most orchestras in New Zealand and toured extensively around the country with several chamber music ensembles as well as throughout North America and Europe. He is currently Associate Professor of Flute and Conducting at the University of Auckland School of Music, and has been Artistic Director of the International Chamber Music Festival of New Zealand since 1998.
Uwe Grodd records for the NAXOS label and in 2000 won the Best 18th Century Orchestral Recording category at the prestigious Cannes Classical Awards for his CD of Symphonies by J.B.Vanhal (Naxos 8.554341) with the Nicolaus Esterhazy Sinfonia.
Matteo Napolis career as a pianist spans many countries. Over the last twenty years he has appeared throughout Italy, in Europe, the Americas, Asia and Australasia, in collaboration with orchestras and as a recitalist. He graduated maxima cum laude at the Umberto Giordano Conservatory in Foggia in 1979 and between 1973 and 1986, took first place at competitions in Salerno in 1973 and 1974, at the Martucci in Capua in 1977, Messina in 1983 and in the Liszt Competition in Lucca in 1986, taking second place in Salerno in 1975, in Albenga in 1978, at the Bellini Competition in 1982, Catanzaro 1983 and 1984 and in the Liszt Competition in 1984. While mantaining a busy international performance schedule, he teaches at the Salerno Conservatory of Music and is frequently called upon to sit on juries for national and international competitions.