Beethoven: Quintet in E flat for piano and wind, Op. 16; Septet in E flat, Op. 20

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Praga
WORKS: Quintet in E flat for piano and wind, Op. 16; Septet in E flat, Op. 20
PERFORMER: Czech Nonet; Ivan Klánsky´ (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: PRD 250 194
Most recordings twin the Beethoven Piano and Wind Quintet with its obvious model, the Mozart Quintet, K452. Here, though, it comes with the ever-popular Septet, another work that shows the Bonn firebrand at his most genial and urbane. The seasoned Czech players bring a delightful ease of manner to both pieces. Phrasing is always fresh and alive, while the potentially tricky problems of wind-string and wind-piano balance are not an issue. Though the Vienna Octet, ancient and modern (both Decca), and, using period instruments, Hausmusik (EMI), rightly have their takers, the Czechs’ new version of the Septet is hard to resist: relaxed yet vital, full of character, and with an ideally judged balance of refinement and rusticity (I loved the easy, faintly lolloping gait of the minuet, and the chuckling wind exchanges of the Trio).

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The Quintet is almost as good. Pianist Ivan Klánsky´ shapes and colours his cantabile themes alluringly, and is always a tactful accompanist. His wind colleagues bring plenty of individuality to their solos and dialogues but also blend euphoniously in the ‘tuttis’. Other performances, including Murray Perahia and the wind of the ECO (Sony) and (on period instruments) Robert Levin and friends (Decca), summon that much more zest and irreverence for the finale. I also miss Levin’s stylish added cadenzas and ornamentation; and if you enjoy the rawer, more pungent sound of the period wind, as I do when played as well as here, the Decca recording (which also includes the Mozart Piano and Wind Quintet and the Beethoven Horn Trio) is the one to go for. But among modern-instrument versions of both works, you won’t do better than this beautifully recorded new disc. Richard Wigmore