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

Pathétique Sonata Op.13 (1799)
Symphony No.8 in F major Op.93 (1814)
Symphony No.1 in C major Op.21 (1800)
Locrian Ensemble
Recorded St Martin’s Church, East Woodhay (Pathétique Sonata) and St Silas Church, Chalk Farm, London (remainder), 2002
GUILD GMCD 7274 [69.54]

This imaginative disc – not the first and assuredly not the last to explore the contemporary chamber arrangements of Beethoven’s compositions – works rather well as a programme. All three works were arranged for string quintet during Beethoven’s lifetime, though not necessarily by him and in fact not necessarily by two of his most famous acolytes and copyists Czerny and Ries. Both certainly did make arrangements of their teacher’s music but none of these three works can be ascribed definitively to them or anyone else. It’s not even certain that they gained Beethoven’s imprimatur either, though the booklet notes speculate that "presumably" they did.

The three arrangements appeared shortly after the premieres of the works in their original guise: the Pathétique about eight years after premiere and then, escalating, the First Symphony three years after publication of the orchestral score and the Eighth two years afterwards. Certainly they function idiomatically for domestic consumption. If the Pathétique is the most unusual involving a transferred medium is involved and keyboard complexities are translated to an all-string medium. The Symphonies are probably the most rewarding in terms of elucidating the scores, tracing harmonic implications and otherwise gaining a greater understanding of the compositional issues.

The Pathétique was recorded in St Martin’s Church, East Woodhay which is very slightly too resonant an acoustic; more so than St Silas Church, Chalk Farm, where the symphonies were recorded. But it does suit the amplitude of the quintet medium well enough and the playing is loyal, colourful and adept. It’s an odd experience listening to this transformed Piano Sonata with its flighty passagework for the first fiddle and the strong inner part writing for violas and anchoring cello. The first movement lacks the vehemence of the original and the second – though I agree with the notes about the cantabile aspect – rather loses the starkness of the piano version. Symphonic work is, of course, simplified in these arrangements but the inner part writing is admirably conveyed. I was especially taken by the Allegretto of the Eighth. This does justice to its gruff wit and shows just how convincing a structure it is as well as why it should be so successful.

The booklet notes are helpful. The performances are well integrated and sound well rehearsed. I’m not quite sure what constituency the disc will have – but who knows, perhaps it will encourage a spate of domestic music making in emulation.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Colin Clarke

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