WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 4 (arr. piano & string quintet); Symphony No. 2 (arr. piano trio); Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 2; Piano Concerto No. 3; Piano Concerto No. 4; Piano Concerto No. 5
PERFORMER: Robert Levin (fortepiano), Peter Hanson, Lucy Howard (violin), Alan George, Annette Isserlis (viola), David Watkin (cello); Monteverdi Choir, Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: 459 622-2 Reissue (Concertos: 1996-8)
Beethoven was a past master at recycling his compositions for different instrumental forces. One can choose for example to hear the early E major Piano Sonata in its alternative guise as an effective String Quartet or, more controversially, the Violin Concerto adapted for piano and orchestra. There were obvious reasons why such arrangements existed, not least because Beethoven desired his music to receive the widest possible dissemination.
Given this context, the recent discovery of an arrangement of the Fourth Piano Concerto for piano and string quintet should come as no great surprise. This reconstructed chamber version, commissioned by Beethoven’s patron Prince Lobkowitz, differs quite significantly from the original, particularly in the piano part which is much more elaborate, providing some startling additions of material, especially in the development section of the first movement. Despite the intimate scoring, the bravura writing of the revised piano part induces Robert Levin to deliver a much more extrovert account of the work than in his earlier recording of the Concerto. He is equally forceful in the trio adaptation of the Second Symphony, where the two string players offer gritty support. My only caveat here is a certain lack of charm and elegance in the slow movement. But this is an important release which deserves to lead a separate existence outside the confines of a boxed set. Erik Levi