Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Quartet for fortepiano, violin, viola and cello in D major, WoO.36 (1801) [26:12]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Quintet, for fortepiano, violin, viola, cello and double bass in A major, Trout D 667 (1819) [40:30]
rec. 2018, San Girolamo Church, Bagnacavallo, Italy
NOVANTIQUA RECORDS NA30 [66:42]
This coupling of chamber works by two masters is not what it might appear at a cursory glance. Firstly, the record company has invited would-be purchasers to pay what they feel is appropriate, as Oxfordshire-based modern progressive rock band “Radiohead” did with their 2007 release “In Rainbows”. In this instance you just pay initially for postage (5.99 euros). Secondly, the Beethoven Piano Quartet is the arrangement of the more well-known Quintet in E-flat for Piano and Winds, Op. 16, written by Beethoven in 1796. The quintet is scored for piano, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon. It is undoubtedly inspired by Mozart's Quintet, K. 452, which has the same scoring and is also in E-flat. I’ve always enjoyed the work since hearing a recording by Walter Gieseking and an ensemble including the unique horn-player Dennis Brain, coupled with the Mozart on Testament. There are also fine versions featuring Vladimir Ashkenazy, Murray Perahia and Daniel Barenboim. In April 2020, I had the pleasure of reviewing a fine recording of both Quintets featuring Christian Ihle Hadland (piano) and Oslo Kammerakademi on Lawo which would certainly be a modern choice. The final difference from other recordings that I admire is that Il Tetraone use instruments based on those from the time of composition. This aspect, added to the ambience of the church produces a somewhat ingratiating sound. The performance of this, to my ears, inferior version is competently played and there is a real feel of ensemble, particularly in the sublime Andante cantabile. It makes an interesting change.
The “Trout Quintet’ was the first piece of chamber music, I consciously remember hearing live, a morning concert at Leeds Grammar School in April 1967. For recordings on modern instruments, I have always loved Clifford Curzon, in the studio with members of the Vienna Octet (Decca) and live with The Amadeus Quartet on an admirable BBC Legends CD. For original instruments, I was greatly taken with Hausmusik in a 5 CD box set of chamber works on Virgin. Their recording was chosen as top in a fairly recent BBC Radio 3 “Building a Library”. With the best will in the world, I couldn’t warm to the performance here, nor the sound. In certain places, particularly the beautiful variations, the violin seems to dominate and drown out the piano. I appreciate that there is a recording from Sviatoslav Richter and the Borodin Quartet where the Russian pianist dominates but this is too much in the other direction. There are certain felicitous touches and I do appreciate their enthusiasm but I fear that this is too ambitious a work for this ensemble. The general sound, especially in the cheerful finale sounds uncomfortable and on this occasion the false ending didn’t fill me with pleasure of more music. I need to mention that my copy froze at several occasions; presumably just my copy.
The release comes in a hard paper sleeve with an insert for the notes. The picture on the cover and inside the front of the notes is “Miles to go before we can weep”, a photo by Daryn Barry; that title seems to be a paraphrase of a poem by Robert Frost. There is a photo of the Piano Quartet with, presumably the bassist, half appearing from a doorway, I’m not sure what this signifies. Overall, I was disappointed with this release of two works I greatly admire, even in the arrangement of the Beethoven. Others may draw more from it but sadly, it is not a disc I will return to.
David R Dunsmore
Ana Liz Ojeda (violin), Alice Bisanti (viola), Paolo Ballanti (cello), Giovanni Valgimigli (double bass), Valeria Montanari (fortepiano)