In the early 19th century, symphonies and other large orchestral pieces were often promoted through chamber and keyboard reductions, which dramatically increased sales for publishers and made home performances a common pastime. A shrewd entrepreneur as well as a respected composer in his own right, Johann Nepomuk Hummel transcribed the first seven of Ludwig van Beethoven's symphonies and the Septet in E flat major for a quartet of flute, violin, cello, and piano, a format that fairly approximated the distribution of the orchestra's parts and made the music more accessible to amateur musicians. This is the first volume in a series on Naxos of Hummel's Beethoven arrangements, played by flutist Uwe Grodd and the Gould Piano Trio, which includes violinist Lucy Gould, cellist Alice Neary, and pianist Benjamin Frith. Their renditions of the Symphony No. 1 in C major and the Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, "Eroica," will be surprising to listeners who have never experienced the symphonies outside the concert hall or apart from recordings, yet this is the way many of Beethoven's contemporaries heard and studied his music. With the unblended lines and clear differentiation of instruments, Beethoven's music assumes a leaner Classical identity, unlike the richer textures and powerful dynamics of the orchestral originals, which are plainly Romantic in feeling. In an ironic twist, chamber versions of the classics have become increasingly recorded and made widely available, and Naxos' series joins the growing catalog of revived chamber arrangements from Mozart to Mahler, a welcome prospect for fans of this sub-genre. While these scaled-down versions will not satisfy newcomers, who need to hear many different interpretations of the symphonies for a full appreciation, connoisseurs may find this project charming and worth following out of curiosity.
AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55 'Eroica'|
|Symphony No. 1 in C major Op. 21|