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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
String Quintets Volume 1 – Transcriptions by Carl KHYM (c.1770-?)

1. String Quintet in G Major (Piano Trio in G Major, Op.1, No.2) [32:38]
2. String Quintet in B Flat Major (Clarinet Trio in B Flat Major, Op.11) [19:25]
3. String Quintet in F Major (Sonata for Horn and Piano in F Major, Op.17) [13:09]
Metamorphosis Quintet (Violetta Eckhardt: Violin I; Yoshiko Hagiwara: Violin II; Barna Juhasz: Viola; Timea Ivan: Viola (1;2); Peter Szabo: Violoncello; Ivan Sztankov: Contrabass (3))
Rec. Phoenix Studio, Unitarian Church, Budapest, Hungary, 27-28 June; 24 Sept 1995.
NAXOS 8.553827 [65:12]


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I’m always saddened by the small number of fellow workers with whom I can have a conversation about music. In fact there are only 3! One of them is the lady who wheels our refreshments trolley round the office. When I told her I was about to review a disc of transcriptions of some of Beethoven’s works, she remarked "How can anyone believe they can improve on perfection". I must say that is always my first reaction to transcriptions, though it is rarely perfection that is at issue. I wonder …why? What can the motivation be behind those who have an urge to transcribe; is it just to prove they can, or because they seriously think they can improve the work, or even simply that it was written for the wrong instruments? In any event I can’t imagine that Carl Khym (1770-?) can have believed he could make these works sound better with his arrangements. However, as a virtuoso oboist, born in Bohemia the same year as Beethoven, he left behind a number of chamber music works and, as the sleeve note states, "competent and effective arrangements of works by other composers". The three transcriptions on this disc appeared between 1810 and 1817, and nothing is known of him after 1819.

What I found amazing was how successful these arrangements are. If I hadn’t known the original works I’d have accepted the possibility that they had been written for string quintet. All three works have been expertly transcribed sharing out the main themes between the instruments in a deft and totally effective way, and I have to say I listened to the music with fresh ears and very much enjoyed the experience. The compositions in their original form need no comment – Beethoven can do little wrong as far as I am concerned. Whatever new discoveries I make in music, in repertoire or in composers new to me, I always return to Beethoven as someone who expresses what I feel about life, humanity and the human condition more accurately than anyone else can. I always feel that I have had a profound experience after listening to his music. That is why I was especially wary about what Carl Khym may have done to these works. I needn’t have worried as the arrangements are really valid musically.

I still cannot say that I am won over to the idea that rewriting music for instruments other than those for which it was originally conceived is an exercise that anyone, who feels so motivated, should feel free to do as I still feel that it is somewhat sacrilegious. I was slightly shocked to find that I can make an exception in this case. In addition the playing is committed and the recording clean and crisp. It was altogether a surprising and pleasing experience.


Steve Arloff

 



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