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Beethoven: Septet, Op. 20

Berkeley Ensemble (Resonus)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Septet in E flat major, Op. 20; Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano in B flat major, Op. 11 ‘Gassenhauer’
Berkeley Ensemble
Resonus RES10255   60.04 mins


Beethoven was annoyed by the popularity of the Septet, feeling that it got in the way of his other works. Its divertimento-like character still charms though, and there’s a lightness to this performance, but also firm sonority at the outset, with an organ-like quality in the underlying harmonies. Balance and warmth of texture are strengths throughout, although there could be a firmer grip on tempo at times: the initial Adagio speeds up after a few bars, and the Allegro also tends to push on. The first of the two slow movements is more controlled, with an easy flow to the phrasing and dynamic shape. And the set of variations is also well characterised, with the minuet and scherzo on either side dancing light-footedly. Sometimes the final Presto loses cohesion, and ensemble wavers, but it’s bubbling with energy, and there’s not a weak link among the players.

That’s carried through to the Trio, where pianist Libby Burgess keeps a firm grip on pulse. Taking a little more time to move into the development section of the first movement would have made the dramatic key change even more telling, though that’s a minor gripe in a performance full of momentum and energy. The intertwining lines of the central Adagio bring out sensitive playing from all three performers, with an ebb and flow which matches and enhances Beethoven’s melodic invention. Invention of a different sort runs through the final variations – not on an original theme, unusually – but where humour is to the fore.

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Martin Cotton