Beethoven: Octet in E flat. Op. 103; Septet in E flat. Op. 20 (arr. wind nonet)

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Octet in E flat. Op. 103; Septet in E flat. Op. 20 (arr. wind nonet)
PERFORMER: Sabine Meyer Wind Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 56817 2
Beethoven’s Octet and Rondino for pairs of oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoons are early works, written for the Harmonic or wind band of the Elector of his home town of Bonn. The ensemble led by the clarinettist Sabine Meyer plays them with great brilliance — perhaps too much brilliance in the first Allegro of the Octet, which flies along as if it were a Presto. The Albion Ensemble is lighter in approach: the tempo of this first movement is just right, but the finale — which is marked Presto – is disappointingly sedate; and there are a few small lapses in tuning.

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The Meyer Ensemble adds an enjoyable curiosity: a contemporary wind arrangement of Beethoven’s popular Septet for clarinet, bassoon, horn and strings. The transcription is skilfully done, preserving a good deal of instrumental contrast with only minor damage to the original lines. The Albion Ensemble’s programme includes a jolly Octet-Partita by Beethoven’s younger rival Hummel, and neat arrangements of excerpts from operas by Hummel and Gluck — a genre which was the mainstay of the classical Harmonie.

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If your preference is for a programme of original wind music, go to the Wind Soloists of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, whose all-Beethoven disc on ASV includes an outstandingly well judged and well played Octet. Otherwise, the Sabine Meyer Ensemble offers virtuosity and the ingenious transformation of the Septet; the Albion Ensemble a more gentle tour of the Harmonie repertoire, at an attractive price. Anthony Burton