Beethoven • J Strauss II • Weber/Küffner
Beethoven: Septet in E flat, Op. 20; J Strauss II: (arr. E Johnson): Frühlingsstimmen; Perpetuum mobile; Weber/Küffner: Introduction, Theme & Variations
Emma Johnson (clarinet), Peter Francombe (horn), Philip Gibbon (bassoon), Christ West (double bass); Carducci String Quartet
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD 0190 57:38 mins
The pros and cons of recording live concerts are evident in these performances given in Southampton’s Turner Sims Hall in October 2017. On the plus side, you get the benefit of eavesdropping on outstanding professional musicians communicating enthusiasm and enjoyment for the works they are playing. In this respect, the Minuet, Variation and Scherzo movements from Beethoven’s Septet, as well as Emma Johnson’s highly effective arrangements of Johann Strauss’s Frühlingsstimmen and Perpetuum mobile, really stand out, projecting all the charm, energy, verve and humour that you could wish for. The Finale of the Beethoven is also dispatched with vibrancy, a particular highlight being Matthew Denton’s daredevil characterisation of the violin cadenza.
I’m less persuaded, however, by the Septet’s slow introduction where ensemble is not always as pristine as might have been achieved in the recording studio. I also sense that the performers take a little time to get into their stride in the ensuing Allegro con brio. Direct comparison with the equivalent sections in the classic performances from the Berlin Philharmonic Octet, Vienna Octet or Nash Ensemble offer a more blended soundworld and greater rhythmic dynamism. Still, there is much to admire in Emma Johnson’s mellifluous and expressive phrasing of the lyrical slow movement melody in the Beethoven, and she negotiates the formidably challenging sequence of scales and arpeggios in the Weber/Küffner Introduction, Theme and Variations with considerable fluency.