Beethoven and the art of arrangement: Ensemble DeNOTE

Beethoven and the art of arrangement
Ensemble DeNOTE
Omnibus Classics CC5007. 69’07

Grand Trio, Op.38 (after the Septet, Op.20); Piano Quartet, Op.16 (after the Quintet for Piano and Winds)

Whether it was a commercial or a musical project, Beethoven’s own arrangements of his works for a smaller number of different instruments form a fascinating insight into the complex musical world of the late 18th and early 19th century. The two works represented on this CD reduce the Op.20 Septet for clarinet, horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello and double bass to a Grand Trio for piano, clarinet and cello; and the Op.16 Quintet for piano, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn to a Quartet for piano, violin, viola and cello.

In the Grand Trio, the clarinet and cello generally stick to their original score, with the piano taking over the much larger texture of the original Septet. The well-known Minuetto sounds lovely in this format, with a lovely twang to the cello staccato notes. This is relatively early Beethoven, composed just before any of his Symphonies and just after his Pathétique Sonata. As such it owes much to Haydn and Mozart, but with hints of the emotional turmoil to come in his later works. Ensemble DeNOTE capture the mood of the young Beethoven perfectly. The Piano Quartet Op.6 has a slightly darker and more intense hue, and a greater contribution from the violin, viola and cello than was the case in the Grand Trio. The rhapsodic central Andante cantabile is notable for its ornamentation and elaboration of the theme.

Details of the instruments are not given, but they are clearly all ‘period’, the distinctly warm and mellow tone of Jane Booth’s classical clarinet being particularly distinctive (notably during the Adagio cantabile of the Grand Trio). The fortepiano sounds just right for these relatively light and early Beethoven pieces, and is played with a sensitive and delicate touch by John Irving. Interestingly it is tuned in a modified version of the so-called Bach-Lehman temperament which, if it ever existed as a real Bach temperament, would have predated these pieces by about 80 years. But it works, as does the A=430 pitch.

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