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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.3, Op. 55 ‘Eroica’ (1802-03) arr. piano quartet by Ferdinand Ries [45:37]
Quintet for piano & winds in E flat major, Op.16 (1796) (arr. piano quartet by Beethoven) [24:18]
Mozart Piano Quartet: (Paul Rivinius (piano); Mark Gothoni (violin); Hartmut Rohde (viola); Peter Hörr (cello))
rec. 2-4 October 2006, Bad Arolsen, Germany. DDD

The German record company Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm (MDG) are one of my favourite independents. I always feel energised by their fascinating and often adventurous choice of repertoire. From my own collection several MDGs of rare Spohr, Raff, Rheinberger, Ries, Onslow and Gade easily spring to mind. The present enterprising release consists of two Beethoven chamber scores – each an arrangement.
In Europe from around the end of the eighteenth-century and for some decades later there was an insatiable craze for arrangements. Liszt was the undisputed master of the art, making arrangements of a wide variety of songs, operas and symphonies. I estimate that over a quarter of Liszt’s prodigious output fall into this category, predominantly crafted as piano reductions, of the works of others or of his own.
So why were arrangements and transcriptions so fashionable and so widespread? I guess that these days we take for granted the ease with which music of all descriptions can be copied and distributed. Compact discs of such a vast range of music are so widespread and inexpensive. This is the era of the software download. It can be difficult to imagine an age before performances could be reproduced electronically; a time when the vast majority of music-lovers only had access to the popular orchestral and operatic scores in pared down versions. These were for performance in the drawing room or salon in arrangements, most commonly for the solo piano and chamber groups. A large number of these were unauthorised by the original composers. Often unofficial arrangements were made with motives that were less than honourable and sometimes unscrupulous publishers were implicated.
Beethoven’s popularity ensured that he was a composer that regularly suffered both financially and artistically at the hands of unofficial arrangers. Beethoven was not afraid to speak out about unauthorised arrangements of his works made by others. He stated, “Arranging is so in vogue nowadays that it would be futile for a composer to try to prevent it; but one can at least rightly demand that the publisher indicate it on the title page, so that the composer’s honour is not diminished and the public not deceived.”
Beethoven and his circle were familiar with the market demand for arrangements of his music. He recognised the value of making arrangements as a direct method of disseminating his scores to a wider audience. Clearly Beethoven preferred to have control over the works of his that were being arranged and it is known that his assistants, notably his brother Kaspar Karl van Beethoven and Ferdinand Ries, would frequently operate as his agents in dealing with publishers.
To maintain an element of control and ease his heavy workload Beethoven would sometimes employ a skilled and trusted composer as an assistant to prepare arrangements under his supervision. Franz Xaver Kleinheinz is one such example. Beethoven’s friend, the composer and pianist Ferdinand Ries, was also greatly involved in making arrangements of several Beethoven scores; including a successful string quartet arrangement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2. Beethoven gave his approval to Ries for arrangement work, however, Ries continued to prepare arrangements after Beethoven’s death.
Contained here is Ries’s arrangement for Quartet of piano, violin, viola and cello of Beethoven’s Symphony No.3, Op. 55 ‘Eroica’ (1802-03). This was first published by Simrock in 1857 and was evidently the last arrangement that Ries was to make of a Beethoven score. It is possible that Ries had been influenced by the Vienna publication of an earlier 1807 arrangement of the Sinfonia eroica for piano quartet. In this arrangement Ries quite naturally allows the piano to take the body of the original score without relegating the strings into submissiveness. Ries employs the string trio mainly to indicate distinctive orchestral figures and contrasts. At first hearing any alterations from the original score seem minor and are generally only those that were deemed necessary for technical reasons.
In the lengthy opening movement of the Eroica, marked Allegro con brio the Mozart Piano Quartet provide a considerable degree of tension with their brisk and characterful playing. Any relief from the anxiety that Beethoven provides is only temporary. The Marcia funebre is performed far too slowly for my liking. At times the Mozart players are in danger of grinding to a halt. Yes, this movement is a funeral march but this pace seems more of a snail’s pace. In this pared down arrangement the Scherzo comes across especially well with energetic and fleet-footed playing. This passionate and robust interpretation of the concluding movement Allegro molto contains melodic episodes of relative calm. The exciting final Presto enters suddenly at 9:47 and sweeps the work to a furiously defiant conclusion.
The second work is Beethoven’s arrangement of his Quintet for piano, oboe, clarinet, horn & bassoon in E flat major from 1796. The score appears to have been hardly altered with an arrangement that is generally faithful to the original. Marked Grave in the very brief opening of the Piano Quartet the Mozart players convey a searching quality. Beethoven blends seriousness with playfulness in the extended Allegro, ma non troppo. Here one strongly feels a relentless forward momentum throughout the movement. The Andante cantabile is a glorious and lyrical outpouring that is communicated splendidly and in these adept hands the exuberant final Rondo has a persuasive sense of outdoor freshness.
One must credit the endeavours of the Mozart Piano Quartet on this all Beethoven release. Their commitment and excellent ensemble are especially worthy of acknowledgment and pianist Paul Rivinius is in beguiling form. On the downside the selection of an extremely slow tempo for the Marcia funebre in the Eroica was not to my personal taste. The MDG engineers provide demonstration standard sound. I enjoyed the interesting essay in the booklet but there was virtually no analytical information on the two scores.
What a superb way to take a fresh look at the Eroica Symphony; such an established masterwork. Beethoven lovers will benefit greatly from this enjoyable new release.
Michael Cookson



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