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Beethoven Symphonies, Vol. 2

Tessa Uys, Ben Schoeman (piano) (SOMM)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Beethoven Symphonies, Vol. 2
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 (arr. Scharwenka); Andante and Variation, Op. 46; Saint-Saëns: Variations on a Theme by Beethoven, Op. 35; Schumann: Andante and Variation for two pianos, Op. 46
Tessa Uys, Ben Schoeman (piano)
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD 0650   65:02 mins

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Before modern recordings made the sound of an orchestra a routine part of home listening, there was a huge appetite for piano arrangements of the symphonies of Beethoven and others. Franz-Xaver Scharwenka’s fine transcription of the Fifth Symphony dates from early in the 20th century, and was therefore devised for the kind of modern concert grand or home upright piano that’s familiar today.

The challenge for those pianists playing an arrangement of this kind is to convey the sonic and rhythmic firepower that must have so astonished the music’s first audiences two centuries ago, while avoiding eardrum-bruising overkill in the process. Tessa Uys and Ben Schoeman excellently square this circle, finding some specially beguiling sounds in the Andante con moto slow movement. Even in such skilled hands, however, the hushed tension of the Scherzo movement’s main sections can’t really be conjured in piano-duet sonority.

The players then switch to two pianos in the other two works. Saint-Saëns’s Variations on a Theme of Beethoven (the theme being from the Piano Sonata, Op. 31 No. 3) is in places near-ridiculously overwritten, but a scintillating listening experience nonetheless. And Schumann’s Andante and Variations in B flat, while offering no evident connection with Beethoven, is a warmly imaginative creation that more than deserves its unlikely place here. In terms both of precise co-ordination and engaging interplay, the performances are state-of-the-art.

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Malcolm Hayes