Locrian Ensemble

Beethoven: Contemporary Arrangements for Chamber Ensemble

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The Swiss label Guild's Beethoven: Contemporary Arrangements for Chamber Ensemble presents three familiar favorites in "new" clothes, at least new to us. These arrangements for string quintet of Beethoven works both large and small, his stormy Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor ("Pathétique"), Op. 13, is heard in an edition made by Vienna publisher Tobias Haslinger in 1807; Haslinger is also responsible for the quintet version of Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93, printed in 1816. It is unlikely that Haslinger would have published anything that fell short of Beethoven's own standards, as he was a close friend of the composer. The firm of Simrock issued the arrangement of the Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21, and this was a publisher that was central to the establishment of Beethoven's reputation. Therefore, in a sense these arrangements are "authentic" even if there is no clear-cut proof that they were "authorized." These seem to be first recordings, based on early prints held by the Zentralbibliothek in Zurich.

Note writer Derek Adlam optimistically states that through the vehicle of these arrangements "music we know well is suddenly transformed into something fresh and novel." That can be the case in some instances, and admittedly, the symphonies fare far better than the "Pathétique"; the fluid, cordial sound of the string quintet conventionalizes the work and makes it considerably less revolutionary than in its regular piano version. As the Symphonies No. 8 and No. 1 were in a sense throwbacks to an older classical discipline that Beethoven ultimately made his reputation debunking, they do not suffer as badly from the change of venue. Symphony No. 8 actually benefits a little from it; the rapid-fire figurations in the violins sound rather exciting in isolation from their context within the body of a string ensemble. These three arrangements are very well played by the English group the Locrian Ensemble and the whole is very nicely recorded by Guild.

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