Beethoven: Septet in E flat, Op. 20; Trio in B flat, Op. 11 (Gassenhauer)

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Septet in E flat, Op. 20; Trio in B flat, Op. 11 (Gassenhauer)
PERFORMER: Ensemble Walter Boeykens
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901518 DDD
Common to these three issues is Beethoven’s Septet in E flat, Op. 20, written in 1799 and presented at Vienna’s Burgtheater during die composer’s benefit concert on 2 April 1800. As Charles Rosen notes hi his book The Classical Syle, ‘die Septet became so embarrassingly popular that (as Czerny likewise reported) Beedioven in later years winced when it was mentioned’. This six-movement work, probably modelled on Mozart’s Divertimento, K563, and enthusiastically received for its ‘great _< taste and imagination', has been particularly well served on disc; the classic 1959 Decca version (with members of the Vienna Octet) still figures prominently in die catalogues, though each of these newcomers offers generally superior sound.

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The Ensemble Walter Boeykens couples the Septet with the so-called GassenhauerTno, Op. 11, which is routinely played, while Op. 20 itself is tediously laboured and unappealing. Consortium Classicum's disc is beautifully engineered, but die Septet sounds recondite and awkwardly mannered; there's tele to delight the ear, even during the entrancing variation movement based on the Rhenish boatman's ditty 'Ach Schifler, lieber Schifrer!', and die quicksilver finale is lethargically circumspect.

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The Naxos disc represents outstanding value for money; performances are splendidly detailed and sonics readily outstrip recordings costing twice as much. The Septet is magisterially addressed by an ad hoc Hungarian team, who deliver an exemplary reading of the work. This generously filled budget release also includes creditable versions of die Sextet in E flat, Op. 81b (the stratospheric horn writing sounding disdainfully easy here), and the fragmentary, though delectable Quintet in E flat, Hess 19. In summary, another triumph for this outstanding super-bargain label – why pay more?