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Beethoven arrangements C00569

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat major Emperor Op.73 (1808-9, arr. Ignaz Moscheles for piano, flute and string quintet)
Overture Ruins of Athens (1811, arr. Stephen Francis Rimbault for piano, flute, violin and cello)
Overture Prometheus (1800, arr. Johann Nepomuk Hummel for piano, flute, violin and cello)
Overture Egmont (1809-10, arr. Moscheles for piano, flute, violin and cello)
Fabrizio Datteri (piano)
Filippo Rogal (flute)
Alberto Bologni (violin)
Gloria Merani (violin)
Anne Lokken (viola)
Filippo Burchietti (cello)
Gabriele Ragghiante (double bass)
rec. 2019-21, Recording Studio Castello; Villa Bertelli; Auditorum V da Massa Carrara, Italy

I believe there is a live performance of Beethoven's E flat Concerto due in my home town and, if I was so inclined, I don't think I would have to travel far in the UK to find at least one more in the next couple of months. Turn the pages back to the first half of the 19th Century and it is a quite a different story. True some towns and cities could and would host an orchestra, perhaps more than one but more often than not the chance to hear orchestral works and concertos in their original forms would be quite limited and obviously non-existent in a domestic setting. Publishers were well aware of this fact and the sheer number of duets and chamber arrangements of symphonies, overtures, ballet suites, opera favourites etc produced for the domestic market boggles the mind. Concertos would be a slightly different case in that even in a chamber version a highly talented soloist was still needed but composers themselves often found it necessary to play their works in this format and there are chamber and piano duet versions of concertos from Mozart to Anton Rubinstein. Hummel, represented here with an arrangement of the Creatures of Prometheus overture, was commissioned to make chamber arrangements of seven of Mozart's Piano Concertos and both of Chopin's Concertos exist in versions with string quintet; Beethoven himself arranged his G major Concerto for piano and string quintet.

The version of the fifth Concerto recorded here was made by Ignaz Moscheles, a fine composer-pianist with eight Piano Concertos of his own and, perhaps as importantly, he was a close friend of Beethoven. He cleverly adds flute to the mix which adds sustain where the violins have a melody and gives contrasting colour and texture, often quite subtly as does the double bass, generating more power in the lower registers. For all that it does take a little while to get used to the sound world and even then the piano, such a majestic sound, is almost too bold a presence – perhaps an odd thing to say considering this is a solo instrument but we are now in the chamber realm. I feel that it is similar to the situation with the Chopin Concertos; several composers have tried to beef up Chopin's rather lacklustre orchestration but then found that the original orchestration was actually perfect for balance with the piano. The opposite is true here; Beethoven's orchestration, especially in this concerto, is so well attuned to the sound of the piano that when it is reduced the piano is too grand, too present. In the adagio soloist Fabrizio Datteri doesn't help with some lumpy playing, the left hand triplets after the trills for instance and a quite high dynamic; a truer pianissimo for the opening piano entry would have matched better with the reduced ensemble. Elsewhere he is commanding and bold but perhaps he emphasises that side of things to the detriment of the more lyrical passages. In this respect it is the finale that comes across best; Datteri is energetic, the balance seems more favourable and the tuttis come across more effectively compared to some of the first movement ones that seem to be striving too much to create a bigger sound. I realise that much of this is pointing out what this arrangement isn't rather than what it is which is a masterful recreation of a whole orchestra with dramatically reduced forces; Moscheles uses the strings and flute in such a way that important timbre changes in the original are found here, the ninth bar in the opening of the adagio for example and there is much to enjoy once your ear has adapted to the new textures. It was never intended to replace the original after all.
Moscheles' arrangement of Beethoven's Egmont is for me more successful and something of a triumph despite there being just four instruments; piano, flute, violin and cello. The piano is now much more of an ensemble instrument providing a foundation allowing the textural variety of the other three instruments to provide so much more colour as well as integrating the piano more successfully into the whole. Thus the climax at 2:36 is as powerful as one could wish without having to strain to make its point. Both times this occurs the passage and the crescendo leading up to it sound incredibly dramatic and energised. Considering the reduced forces Moscheles has at his disposal he finds a wide range of timbre; just listen to the declamatory opening and the solo flute, the stern chords and their answer at 2:58 or the syncopated passages from 6:05.

Another virtuoso composer pianist, the aforementioned Johann Nepomuk Hummel uses the same forces for the overture to The Creatures of Prometheus, Beethoven's only ballet score written a decade earlier. The piano here takes a more prominent role and while the other instruments provide essential colour, especially in the dramatic adagio introduction, there is a definite sense of this as more an arrangement of a concertante work than an orchestral overture. Like the Egmont overture it is undeniably effective.

The final work here is the overture to Beethoven's incidental music to August von Kotzebue's play The Ruins of Athens, perhaps best known for the famous Turkish March. Stephen Francis Rimbault who made this arrangement is a much more unknown figure. He was an organist and composer who lived in England, born of Huguenot refugees who came over in 1685; his son Edward Francis was an acclaimed organist and scholar who was taught by Samuel Wesley. Again he makes good use of the small forces available and the work is entertaining though I don't find he makes such subtle use of the instruments as Moscheles and Hummel.

On the whole this is a valuable recording, documenting a little of the reality of early 19th century performance that is lost to us in a world of music on tap. If I sometimes find Fabrizio Datteri's lyrical playing a little ordinary I am impressed by his energy and he and his colleagues certainly bring these pieces to life with verve and enthusiasm.

Rob Challinor

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