Beethoven 250: Hanover Band

Beethoven 250
An online festival of Beethoven Symphonies and Chamber Music
The Hanover Band, Consone Quartet, Benjamin Bayl
Recorded at the Stationers’ Hall in The City of London
& Arundel Town Hall, West Sussex

Wednesday broadcasts, September to December 2020 

One of the most enterprising and musically successful of this year’s online Covid concert series is the Beethoven 250 programme of concerts from The Hanover Band (who are also celebrated their own 40th anniversary this year) and the Consone Quartet, all playing appropriate period instruments. The series started with four concerts of chamber music, followed by the complete symphonies. The symphonies were recorded in London’s musically significent 1673 Stationers’ Hall while the chamber concerts were recorded in the Town Hall in Arundal, The Hanover Band’s home town. The venues were chosen to be similar to the size and acoustic of the venues where the original performances might have been first experienced. The homepage for the Beethoven 250 festival is here, with links to the brochure for the festival and all the broadcasts. The concerts can also be viewed on The Hanover Band’s homepage or their YouTube channel. Although the concerts can, commendably, all be viewed for free, donations are obviously not only welcome but, in these straightened times for musicians, are pretty well essential.

The online festival started with four concerts of chamber music from the Consone Quartet and members of The Hanover Band Chamber Ensemble. They were recorded in front of a much reduced and socially distanced audience during August 2020 and were first broadcast on Wednesdays between 29 September and 14 October. They can be viewed on YouTube through these links:

Septet in Eb, Op.20
Op.18 Quartets No. 1 and No. 3
Op.18 Quartets No. 2 and No. 6
Op.18 Quartets No. 5 and No. 4

They were all composed between 1798 and 1800 and published in 1801/2. The Septet is scored for clarinet, horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello, and double bass and was one of Beethoven’s most popular compositions. Some of most evocative playing comes in the introductions to the first and last movements. The Six Quartets are paired in what I assume were intended to make to compatible key signature relations, rather than Opus number or date of composition order, but the choice works well whatever the reason. The Consone Quartet play with delicacy and insight.

The symphonies are first broadcast on Wednesdays between 21st October and 6th December 2020 and are available to watch after their first broadcast. They are currently up to the 6th Symphony, released on 25 November. The series will culminate with the famous 9th Symphony, conducted by Sir Mark Elder, on Wednesday 16 December 2020, appropriately, the date of Beethovens’ actual birthday. The other eight symphonies are all conducted by Benjamin Bayl, associate director of the Hanover Band. The first recording, and links to the available others, can be accessed here.

The recording venue was the 1673 Hall of the Stationers’ Company, a City of London Livery Company. The Stationers’ were a deposit library for the registration of music publications, and became a centre for music performance shortly after the Hall opened (rebuilt after its predecessor was destroyed in the Great Fire of London) when the Society of Gentlemen and Lovers of Music moved their annual musical dinner there in 1684. The Hanover Band managed to record the Beethoven Symphonies at the rate of one a day – an ambitious project. The Hanover Band completely fill the hall in their socially distanced seating, arranged sideways in the rectangular space, performing under the gaze of St Cecilia from the stained glass window.

All of the recordings are introduced by the daughter of Caroline Brown, the founder of The Hanover Band. If you are new to period instruments, the recording of the 5th Symphony includes an introduction to the period violin, horn and timpani in the introductory sequence. Benjamin Bayl conducts with evident insight into the ebb and flow of the music, notably during the often extended link passages that Beethoven features, notably in the Fifth Sympony. Bayl clearly recognises the pattern of music development over the nine Symphonies. Assuming that these recordings remain available on-line into the future, their fine performances will form an outstanding musical record of an extraordinary composer – and an extraordinary year.

The recording and filming quality is excellent. The acoustics work well, giving a rich and full sound without excessive reverberation or ‘bloom’. For many of the players, this was their first return to collaborative music making since the Covid lockdown, so it will be an event that will remain with them for a long time.

The financial implication of presenting such a programme must have been enormous, so I hope that their decision to make the recordings available to all, rather than hiding behind a pay-wall, pays off through much needed and much deseved donations.