Saturday, June 20, 2020

“Kühl, nicht lau” - Tami Krausz (8-keyed flute) and Shuann Chai (fortepiano) in a new recording of works by Beethoven and Kuhlau

“Kühl, nicht lau” (Cool, Not Lukewarm) might seem a somewhat enigmatic title for a disc, but this is actually the name of a small, whimsical canon that represents the connection between Friedrich Kuhlau and Ludwig van Beethoven, as presented here in works of both composers performed by flautist Tami Krausz and pianist Shuann Chai. Performing on period instruments, Shuann Chai plays a fortepiano by Johann Zahler, Brünn (Brno) c.1805, restored by Gijs Wilderom and on one by Michael Rosenberger, Vienna , c.1802, restored by Edwin Beunk; Tami Kraus plays on an eight-keyed flute made by Rudolf Tutz, Innsbruck, 2000, after Heinrich Grenser, Dresden c.1810.. 


It was in 1825 on a visit to Vienna that Kuhlau met Ludwig van Beethoven. In the disc’s liner notes, Chai and Krausz explain that the “inspiration to juxtapose the music of Beethoven and Kuhlau...came from the delightful account of their first and only personal encounter.” It seems the two composers got on rather well, judging by their exchange of compositional canons as souvenirs. German-born Kuhlau had emigrated to Denmark and introduced much of Beethoven’s music to audiences in that country.


The first work on the recording is Beethoven’s Serenade in D major for piano and flute (or violin) Op.41, a piece based on the composer’s Opus 25 for flute, violin and viola. Op. 25 (c.1801), published in 1802. Due to its popular appeal, an arrangement was made a year later for flute and piano by another composer (possibly Franz Xaver Kleinheinz), corrected and approved by Beethoven himself and published as Op. 41. Tami Krausz and Shuann Chai’s reading of the Serenade presents music of a young, carefree Beethoven (less familiar to listeners than the burdened person he was to become), here, a composer writing music possibly to entertain and delight guests attending a Viennese garden party. Light-hearted and recreational, this is, nevertheless, no background music in the hands of these two artists, who give rich expression to its jovial hide-and-seek banter, its naivety, its cantabile moments and almost folk-like dances, as well as to the many contrasts created by textures and piano timbres. Displaying fine teamwork, Chai and Krausz colour gestures with understated rhythmical flexing and some playful but florid and imaginative ornamenting, the latter sitting well with the eight-keyed flute and on the easeful action of the Zahler fortepiano. 


Considered the most important composer of flute music in the early 19th century, Friedrich Kuhlau has been referred to as “Beethoven of the flute”. Of his some-300 works, more than a quarter include the flute - the favoured instrument of gentlemen amateurs of the early 19th century - thus ensuring the composers of some nice profits. The Capriccio in D minor No.9 Op.10b (published 1810) is one of Kuhlau’s 12 Variations and Solos for solo flute, a collection of pieces based on familiar French and German folk melodies. Krausz’ performance of the Capriccio combines the piece’s rich agenda of expressive writing with opportunities for bravura performance, as she fashions and defines each motif and phrase with involvement, appealing capriciousness, articulacy and good articulation throughout the range of the instrument. Such writing suggests that Kuhlau must have been a virtuosic flautist. In 1814, however, the composer explained to his publisher Breitkopf & Härtel “I play this instrument only a little, but I know it exactly”. On matters of the instrument, he is known to have consulted with the flautist of the royal orchestra in Copenhagen.


In the late summer of 1826, Kuhlau moved to Lyngby, eight miles north of Copenhagen, where he spent his time composing and enjoying nature to the full in beautiful rural surroundings. One of the composer’s most substantial works for flute and piano, the Grande Sonate Concertante in A minor for piano and flute Op. 85 (1827), is a product of this period; it is the last of several sonatas composed for flute and piano. Krausz and Chai give vivid expression to Kuhlau’s free use of musical ideas, to the work’s grand gestures, its charm, changes of temperament and compelling textures, as in the opening movement (Allegro con passione), to the skipping, lilting, entertaining lightness of the Scherzo, to the tranquillity dictated by the Adagio and to the good-natured vivacity of the final movement (Rondo); in  the latter, Chai makes economical but hearty use of the Rosenberger piano’s drum-and-bell Janissary stop. In Krausz and Chai’s hands, Kuhlau’s rich harmonies, virtuosic writing and user-friendly melodiousness take on fluency, spontaneity, suave shaping and some lavish and elegant ornamentation. How alive this music emerges when performed on authentic instruments!


The title of Beethoven’s canon à 3 'Kühl, nicht lau' WoO 191 is a play on Kuhlau’s name. Written under the influence of a few glasses of champagne, the opening of the small canon’s somewhat strange course, floating in and out of tonality, is based on the B-A-C-H cryptogram (B-flat, A, C, B-natural) . On this disc we hear pianist/mathematician Joris Weimar’s reworking of the canon for three voices, piano and flute. The instrumentalists are joined by João Moreira (tenor), Matthijs van de Woerd (baritone) and Marc Pantus (bass baritone). Referring to Weimar’s arrangement of the canon, Chai and Krausz write: “We hope that it brings modern-day listeners closer to a time when extemporization and musical riddles were a regular part of musicians’ lives.” Recorded in The Netherlands in 2019 under exclusive license to Outhere Music, the disc’s lively, fresh and rich sound quality does justice to the artists’ informed, profound and dedicated musicianship.



Shuann Chai, Tami Krausz (Photo: Karni Arieli)