Sunday, May 14, 2017

Friedrich Kalkbrenner - Chamber Music (Linos Ensemble)


Composer: Friedrich Kalkbrenner
  1. Sextet for piano, string quartet & double bass in G major, Op. 58: I. Allegro maestoso
  2. Sextet for piano, string quartet & double bass in G major, Op. 58:II. Menuett. Allegretto
  3. Sextet for piano, string quartet & double bass in G major, Op. 58:III. Cantabile
  4. Sextet for piano, string quartet & double bass in G major, Op. 58:IV. Rondo con spirito
  5. Piano Fantasy on the Scottish Air "We're A' Noddin", Op. 60
  6. Septet for piano, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon, cello & double bass in A major, Op. 132: I. Allegro brillante
  7. Septet for piano, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon, cello & double bass in A major, Op. 132: II. Andante
  8. Septet for piano, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon, cello & double bass in A major, Op. 132: III. Scherzo. Presto con fuoco
  9. Septet for piano, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon, cello & double bass in A major, Op. 132: IV. Allegretto vivace e leggierissimo

Linos Ensemble
Konstanze Eickhorst, piano
Winfried Rademacher, violin I
Dylan Naylor, violin II
Matthias Buchholz, viola
Mario Blaumer, cello
Jörg Linowitzki, double bass
Nick Deutsch, oboe
Rainer Müller van Recum, clarinet
Ole Dahl, bassoon
Paul van Zelm, horn

Date: 2014
Label; CPO



Friedrich Kalkbrenner (1785–1849) mainly earned his reputation as Europe’s foremost virtuoso pianist during the early decades of the 19th century—that, and as a man of haughty airs and immeasurable self-importance. He actually believed himself to be the only classical composer left after Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven; and upon hearing Chopin play in Paris, Kalkbrenner is alleged to have told the young pianist and composer that he could benefit from lessons at one of Kalkbrenner’s piano studios. He fancied himself an aristocrat but came across to his colleagues and peers as a pompous, puffed-up popinjay. He may not have been self-aware enough to realize how off-putting his appearance and manners were to others, but like Liberace, Kalkbrenner laughed all the way to the bank. A shrewd businessman, he became fabulously wealthy, and not just from his concert appearances and the publication and sale of his compositions. He charged outrageous teaching fees, yet was sought out by students from far and wide, and he then branched out into the piano manufacturing business.

Though German by birth, Kalkbrenner studied in Paris, and then settled there for the remainder of his life, leading many to regard him as a French composer. He was mercilessly satirized by the poet Heinrich Heine, who wrote in his Letters from Paris (1840–1847) , “Kalkbrenner reappeared this winter in the concert of a pupil; there still plays on his lips that embalmed and balmy smile which we lately noted in an Egyptian Pharaoh when his mummy was unrolled in the museum here.” But more germane to this review was Clara Schumann’s reaction in 1839 to a performance of a Kalkbrenner sextet, though probably not the one on this disc (see below for my deduction). Wrote Clara, “A sextet of Kalkbrenner’s was played yesterday, which is miserably composed, so poor, so feeble, and so lacking in all imagination. Of course Kalkbrenner sat in the front row smiling sweetly, and highly satisfied with himself and his creation. He always looks as if he were saying, ‘Oh God, I and all mankind must thank Thee that Thou hast created a mind like mine.’”

So, let us listen to Kalkbrenner’s Sextet and see who was the better judge of it, Clara Schumann or God. Thirty minutes later, having listened to the piece, I will say that it’s no masterpiece, but I think Clara’s critique is a bit harsh. Granted, gratuitous double-octave runs and other pianistic acrobatics tend to turn the sextet into a piano concerto accompanied by a string quintet of two violins, viola, cello, and double bass; but say what you will, Kalkbrenner had a flair for pleasing melody and harmony, and for a rippling rhythmic flow that closely resembles the style of Hummel. Besides, I’m a sucker for this type of Mendelssohn-era chamber music familiar from similar works, not just by Hummel, but by others of the period, such as Conradin Kreutzer, Friedrich Witt, George Onslow, and Louise Farrenc. It may not be the easiest music to play, but it plays easily and sweetly on the ear.

No date is given for Kalkbrenner’s G-Major Sextet in the accompanying album note, but I was finally able to track it down on the Earsense Chamber Music Database (, which gives its publication date as 1821. Above, I deduced that this was probably not the same sextet that Clara Schumann heard and panned in 1839, my reasoning being that Kalkbrenner composed another sextet, this one in F Minor for piano, two horns, bassoon, cello, and double bass, op. 135, which was published in 1838. It was likely a performance of the later sextet that Clara attended the following year. The unusual, bottom-heavy scoring of the piece may have contributed to her unflattering opinion.

Kalkbrenner was a far more prolific composer than the dozen or so listed recordings of his works would suggest. His work catalog contains nearly 200 entries, all but a handful of which were published in his lifetime. Regarding the Septet in A Major, op. 132, dated 1835, the recording at hand is not its first, and therein lies a bit of a conundrum for the potential buyer. On an MDG CD, the celebrated world-class Consortium Classicum performs the piece, pairing it with Kalkbrenner’s 1826 Grand Quintet for piano, clarinet, horn, cello, and double bass. The Linos Ensemble on the current CD may be as well known to collectors as is the Consortium Classicum, and I find the Linos’s performance of the A-Major Septet for piano, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon, cello, and double bass every bit as sparkling and spirited as that of the Consortium Classicum’s. That being equal then, if choice must be made between the two, it may hinge on program preference.

The G-Major Sextet on the present disc— pace Clara Schumann, whether this is the sextet she heard or not—is a pleasing and entertaining work, as is the Piano Fantasy on the Scottish Air, “We’re A’ Noddin’,” op. 60, a virtuosic showpiece for solo piano that reflects the craze at the time for all things Scottish. But none of the three works presented here falls into the same compositional niche or really goes together—a piece for piano and strings (similar in scoring to Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet), a solo piano salon dazzler, and a mixed chamber work for piano, woodwinds, and strings. So, the Linos Ensemble and CPO offer us a diverse sampler of Kalkbrenner’s art, with the A-Major Septet clearly standing out as the most substantive and accomplished work of the lot.

The Consortium Classicum and MDG offer us two like works—the current septet and the Grand Quintet —both scored for a mixed group of piano, woodwinds, and strings, and both of which quite possibly represent Kalkbrenner at his best. Obviously, only you can decide which of the two discs is more attractive to you. I’m glad to have this new Linos release, sent to me gratis of course for review, but if I had to pay for one or the other out of my own pocket, I think I’d opt for the Consortium Classicum on MDG, but only because I prefer programs of similar works to those made up of unlike works.

-- Jerry Dubins, FANFARE


Friedrich Kalkbrenner (November 2–8, 1785 – June 10, 1849) was a German-born pianist, composer, piano teacher and piano manufacturer. Kalkbrenner studied at the Paris Conservatoire starting at a young age and lived most of his life in Paris. At his peak, Kalkbrenner was considered to be the foremost pianist in Europe, with Johann Nepomuk Hummel as his only serious rival. Kalkbrenner was a prolific composer but not much of his huge output has survived. Kalkbrenner had quite a few pupils and some of them became fine pianists and sometimes also good composers.


The Linos Ensemble was founded in 1977 by the oboist Klaus Becker. The ensemble's core instruments include five woodwinds, five strings and a piano. The ensemble's repertoire includes about 130 works, ranging from Bach to Stockhausen, from small trios to as large as chamber symphonies. The musicians have made more than 20 recordings, which were enthusiastically received by audiences and critics alike.


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  2. Clara Schumann notwithstanding, these are excellent chamber pieces!
    Will be in my top ten of the year for sure. Thanks!!!!

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  4. excellent, thank you very much ...
    best wishes