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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.3, Op. 55 ‘Eroica’ (1802-03) arr. piano quartet by Ferdinand Ries
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
DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM MDG 643 1454-2 [70:08]
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
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.
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