WORKS: String Quintet in C, Op. 29; Septet in E flat, Op. 20
PERFORMER: Academy of St Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9718
Beethoven’s Septet is widely represented in the catalogue, but his String Quintet, Op. 29 (the key is that of Schubert’s, C major, though following Mozartian precedent a second viola is included), offers fewer options. The ASMF Ensemble taped it for Philips in 1991; this newcomer offers certain sonic gains, but collectors after this particular coupling will find Hausmusik’s 1992 EMI performances more satisfying. The Academy team produces a slick, clinical result, short on both humour and idiomatic flair beside its authenticist rivals. And Chandos’s leading-edge technology doesn’t really justify its high price tag when, at barely a third of the cost Naxos offer a finer Septet. Its ad-hoc Hungarian group capture its ‘unbuttoned’ geniality with compelling ease, while two other rarities, the Sextet for two horns and strings, Op. 81b, and the E flat Quintet, H19, complete this essential bargain.
Sony’s intriguing Beethoven-Ludwig Thuille conjunction, from the Ensemble Wien-Berlin and pianist Stefan Vladar is stunning, and will certainly figure in this year’s Critics’ Choice deliberations. Beethoven’s Piano and Wind Quintet, Op. 16, is a logical match for Mozart’s (K452), as recorded by these players and pianist James Levine for DG in 1987. Both recordings are outstanding, but adventurous listeners should find plenty to enjoy in Ludwig Thuille’s Strauss-inspired Op. 6 Sextet of 1886, probably his best known work. This version outclasses its only rival, from Dennis Russell Davies and the Stuttgart Wind Quintet on MDG, where the equally attractive coupling is Poulenc’s Sextet. Michael Jameson