You may well ask, on reading the titles above,
how a work for quintet can be scored for eight instruments. The
background and history to these two works are worth discussion
before we address the performance and the music. Ulf-Guido Schafer
is interviewed in the programme booklet by Hans-Ulrich Lembick.
He explains: "We wanted to record Beethoven’s Septet Op.
20 and needed to find a suitable work to couple it with".
It’s interesting that the exigency of having about seventy minutes
of music necessary to fill a CD caused this particular creative
necessity. He goes on "Beethoven himself arranged his Octet
Op. 103 as a Quintet Op. 4". Confused, I think, but let’s
continue: "My arrangement (of the Op. 4) is essentially based
on the String Quintet which is more extensive and contains more
interesting harmony". More explanation needed? Let me try.
Beethoven’s Wind Octet Op. 103 has such a high
opus number because it was not published until well after his
death. It was composed in 1792. Beethoven, possibly because he
needed the money, arranged the piece for wind quintet. This was
a more easily accommodated combination and he liked the four-movement
serenade-type work rather a lot. Then he arranged it again for
String Quintet and ‘improved’ on the harmony a little. It is this
version that Schafer has taken and arranged for these eight players.
It makes a fascinating companion to the Septet. Incidentally the
great man also arranged this Septet for Piano Trio around 1803
and gave it the opus number 38.
Some of you may disagree about my presumption
of calling this work ‘serenade-like’ but it is certainly a light
work. It is not as powerful or as original a piece as the more
famous C major quintet Op. 29. I’m sure anyway that you would
not disagree that its ‘brother’ on this recording the Septet Op.
20, completed in 1800, with its six movement format, is most certainly
in the tradition of those Serenades made popular a generation
earlier by Mozart and his contemporaries.
The Ensemble Acht has the arranger Ulf-Guido
Schafer as its clarinettist. He obviously must have directed the
group in this recording even if only in rehearsal. I mention this
because the ensemble of the group is excellent throughout and
as no leader or director is indicated this aspect of the performance
is outstanding. Concerning tempi, however, I do have a few reservations.
The Septet opens with an elegant Adagio, which
here seems a little quick and matter-of-fact. By contrast the
ensuing allegro con brio seems a little too steady or it
appears so by comparison. The Haydnesque ‘Theme and variations’
movement (No. 4) seems a little too fast to me for an Andante
especially the playing of the theme itself. The following Scherzo
however is very nicely judged and there is some very sensitive
attention to dynamics. The horn (Christoph Moinian) here leads
the merry dance as it does in the Menuetto in the Quintet arrangement.
This is played at the same tempo as the Scherzo in the Op. 20.
Without a score I can only query this. In early Beethoven the
Minuets are often taken at a fairly steady pace. Is this what
Beethoven intended? The two trios in the Menuetto (giving the
not uncommon form of ABACA) are slowed down quite considerably
which makes for a slightly disjointed view of the music.
The recording is intimate, detailed, but with
space around it. One of the best recordings I have heard this