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.