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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Contemporary Arrangements for Chamber Ensemble.

Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, ‘Pathétique’ (1799, arr. publ.Haslinger). Symphonies: No. 1 in C, Op. 21 (1800, arr. publ. Simrock, c1803); No. 8 in F, Op. 93 (1814, arr. publ. Haslinger 1816)
Locrian Ensemble/Rolf Wilson, Rita Ma.
Rec. St. Martin’s Church, East Woodhay, Berkshire on May 27th, 2002 (Op. 13); St. Silas Church, Chalk Farm, London, on January 13th-14th, 2002 (rest).
GUILD GMCD7274 [DDD] [69’54]

 

An interesting concept, brought off with real élan. All of these arrangements are contemporary with the composer (all within Beethoven’s lifetime). The snag is no-one’s quite sure who did them. The Pathétique arrangement was published in 1807 (or thereabouts) by Tobias Haslinger, who may have been the arranger himself. Actually, it is remarkably effective, once the shock of the opening chord is over. Instead of a hard-edged piano accent, the strings are more cushioned, taking away some of the visceral nature of the moment. The performance by the Locrian Ensemble is alive, if curiously somewhat distanced. Part-writing is by the very nature of the beast clearer and a C-minor energy does flow throughout the first movement.

The famous slow movement is very lyrical and restful (when one plays it there is a tendency to think in terms of the string quartet, anyway – it is even notated to imply a quartet of some description!). The finale has a relevant feeling of forward motion, unfortunately sagging in the middle (as the players seem to get a little self-indulgent).

The Eighth Symphony is next in playing order (the listed playing order on the front cover is exactly in reverse!). It’s amazing how much energy the Locrian Ensemble brings to the first movement; even the very opening is the requisite explosion of joy! This is furious and zesty playing - it really sounds as if they went for it in the studio! The diminuendo in the opening bars of the ‘mechanistic’ second movement may raise eyebrows (it demeans the tick-tock element) and the third movement is perhaps not as muscular as it could be. The finale too suffers from a low-voltage approach.

The First Symphony is more consistently charged and alive. While certain elements are certainly demeaned by the reduced scoring, cheeky exchanges work remarkably well. The brisk tempo for the slow movement is perhaps surprising, but it actually exactly reflects the designation. It is the finale that is the highlight here, definitely comedic and rhythmically on-the-ball. It’s just a little bit tame towards the end; this is a young man’s music, after all.

This is a superb, thoroughly enjoyable disc. Michael Ponder’s recording (he is both Producer and Balance Engineer) is superb, with just the right mount of space, yet letting through all the detail.

Well worth investigation. The Locrian Ensemble excels itself. Do try and hear this disc.

Colin Clarke



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