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KUHLAU: Piano Quartets 1 & 2 – Copenhagen Piano Q. – DaCapo

If you think Kuhlau is simply all about flighty flute music, you’ll be in for a big surprise here.

KUHLAU: Piano Quartet No. 1 in c, Op. 32; No. 2 in A, Op. 50 – Copenhagen Piano Quartet – DaCapo multichannel SACD 6.220596, 72:44 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

It’s odd how the one-eyed German who adored Beethoven more than anyone else became one of Denmark’s most admired composers. He was nonconformist to the extreme, loved his drink and his smokes, avoided the cliquish inner circles of Copenhagen (where much of his support came from), and was offered Danish citizenship and the post of Royal Court Musician. He was also a terrific pianist.

Though most today know him by the somewhat pejorative title of “Beethoven of the flute” since he wrote so much music for an instrument that enjoyed enormous popularity at the time. In fact his operas and other chamber works make for an impressive expanse of creativity in many genres, of exceptional quality. Such is the case of the first two of his three Piano Quartets, written rather closely together despite the divergence in opus numbers. In fact, the Second Piano Quartet was written at the same time as his seminal and important opera Lulu. Both of these works require superhuman pianistic skills of technique and interpretation, and each is substantial in terms of creative depth and finesse. If you think Kuhlau is simply all about flighty flute music, you’ll be in for a big surprise.

The sound is excellent, well-balanced and warm – especially in hi-res surround, while the young Copenhagen Piano Quartet attack and conquer the difficulties with aplomb and ravishing sophistication. Nice job!

—Steven Ritter

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