Beethoven: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 8; Piano Sonata in C minor, Op. 13 (Pathétique)

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
ALBUM TITLE: Contemporary Arrangements for Chamber Ensemble
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 8; Piano Sonata in C minor, Op. 13 (Pathétique)
PERFORMER: Locrian Ensemble
‘The question of arrangements’, Beethoven once acknowledged, ‘is altogether one which a composer would resist in vain’, and these anonymous string quintet transcriptions of three of his most famous works give us an idea of what he had to endure. The arrangements of the Eighth Symphony and the Pathétique Sonata are actually surprisingly resourceful, and rather superior to Beethoven’s own attempt at a string quartet version of his Op. 14/1 Piano Sonata; and the Locrian Ensemble’s gutsy performances make a persuasive case for them. Much less successful as a transcription is the Symphony No. 1. This was the very arrangement that aroused Beethoven’s ire when it was issued as though it were authentic. In fact, it makes little attempt to reproduce the energy of the original (though slightly more alert tempi might have helped the outer movements in the Locrian Ensemble’s performance), and was clearly made for players who couldn’t manage semiquaver tremolos. A missing bar in the slow movement’s exposition makes nonsense of a rising harmonic sequence, and should have been inserted (it’s there in the recapitulation); and a prominent misprint in the minuet – D flat in place of D natural – could also have been corrected. But this well-recorded disc is an enterprising and enjoyable venture. Misha Donat