Sextet in E flat, Op. 71; Duo No. 1 in C, WoO27/1; Octet in E flat, Op. 103; Rondino in E flat, WoO25; Marsch und Trio für Militärmusik, WoO29
Scottish Chamber Orchestra Wind Soloists
Linn CKD572 55:13 mins
There’s still a received notion that Beethoven just couldn’t do light music – in which case how does one explain the enduring popularity of the Op. 20 Septet? Granted, none of the pieces recorded here is on the same level as that delightful, witty divertissement, but when played with the kind of spirited, intelligent musicianship the Scottish Chamber winds bring, the Sextet and Octet in particular spring to life.
One wouldn’t normally expect late-18th-century aristocratic entertainment music to survive the test of time, but this really does speak across the ages. For a start, these pieces are so irresistibly tuneful, and then there’s the humour – less suave, sometimes edgier than Mozart’s, but at times winningly delicate. There are moments when you can sense Beethoven’s sly determination not to let his ideas pass as mere courtly muzak: the dying echo coda of the Rondino would be striking enough in one of the early symphonies or concertos. The horn writing is especially ear-catching: at times almost frenetically exuberant, it’s played superbly here by the two SCO horns, with hand-stopped notes (the horns are valveless, as Beethoven would have expected) adding a pleasingly earthy rasp to some of the crazier solo or duet passages. The lyrical extravagance of the solo horn writing in the Ninth Symphony makes a lot more sense when you know what horn players in his time could do. But all the solo playing here is impressive, as is the tight, beautifully balanced ensemble, and the recording does it justice.