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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) (arr. Ulf-Guido Schäfer)
Harmoniemusik for wind quintet
Incidental music to “Egmont” Op. 84 (1809-10) [17:06]; Ballet music from “Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus” Op. 43 (1801) [19:50]; Music for “Die Ruinen von Athen” Op. 113 (1811) [21:24]
Ma’alot Quintet (Stephanie Winker (flute and piccolo); Christian Wetzel (oboe), Ulf-Guido Schäfer (clarinet); Volker Grewel (horn); Volker Tessmann (bassoon))
rec. 31 January–2 February 2007, Paul-Gerhardt-Kirche, Leipzig


The quintets which popularised the usual modern ensemble of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn were written by Reicha. Although Reicha was sometimes referred to as “the Beethoven of the flute”, Beethoven himself wrote no wind quintets. He wrote for wind ensembles customary at the time which usually comprised pairs of the various instruments involved. Ulf-Guido Schäfer, clarinetist of the Ma’alot Quintet, has partly remedied this by arranging this series of extracts from Beethoven’s lesser-known music for the theatre. 

All three works are not only re-orchestrated but, to a greater or lesser extent, are cut and re-ordered. The music for “Die Ruinen von Athen” is the most complete, as well as that reduced most in scale as the original includes choruses as well as orchestral items. As in all the suites recorded here the listener is likely to be amazed at how much of the sense of the original is retained. In many ways this is the most successful item. But the Overture, with its mysterious slow introduction, is splendid as are the Turkish March, with its dominant piccolo and well realized “patrol” effect, and the large-scale choruses, which retain the grandeur of the original.

The extracts from “Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus” comprise just under half the original, although they exclude the best known items – the Overture and the Finale, which uses the theme also used in the Finale of the “Eroica”. The remaining items are substantially re-ordered and some are cut. What is surprising again is how effective the results are. Certainly there are losses. The “Solo della Signora Cassentini” (No. 14 in the original) with its wonderful basset-horn solo is pleasant here but nowhere near as characterful as the original. The end of the suite, which uses part of the original No 8, at once one of the longest and least interesting parts of the ballet, forms an unsatisfactory conclusion. Nonetheless as a whole this Suite contains much very attractive music well arranged and played. Similar comments apply to the music from “Egmont”, which again lacks the Overture. 

The extensive notes by Helga Lühning in the booklet tell us much about the original music and its context but fail to identify which items are included on this disc and how they have been re-arranged. Much as I have enjoyed this disc I would not recommend it to anyone unfamiliar with the originals, all of which are readily available in recordings which bring to life Beethoven’s original thoughts without cuts or re-ordering. I do however recommend it strongly to anyone interested in new light being shed on this music, and of course to devotees of wind music. I am sure that they will be as amazed and delighted as I was at the way in which the inherent problems of the wind quintet of blend and ensemble have been overcome and at the virtuosity and musicianship of these players. The recording is clear without being too close. All in all, this is a disc which provides considerable and perhaps unexpected pleasure.

John Sheppard



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