Beethoven: Quintet for piano, oboe, clarinet, bassoon & horn in E flat, Op. 16

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Quintet for piano, oboe, clarinet, bassoon & horn in E flat, Op. 16
PERFORMER: Gaudier Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67526
Beethoven wrote a good deal for wind instruments in his younger days, and this attractive disc by the pan-European Gaudier Ensemble brings together three works with contrasting mixed scorings. The 1798 Trio for clarinet, cello and piano is a substantial piece, with an expressive slow movement and a closing set of good-humoured variations on a comic opera tune. Here’s a well-nigh ideal performance, though Richard Hosford’s clarinet seems further forward in the balance than Christoph Marks’s cello. The slightly later Op. 25 Serenade could hardly be described as substantial, with its airy instrumentation and its plan of six movements without a sonata-allegro or a full-length slow movement among them. But in this beautifully polished reading, led by flautist Jaime Martin, it’s perfect entertainment music.

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The major work, though, is the Quintet of 1796, for the combination invented by Mozart of piano with oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon. Pianist Susan Tomes takes the lead in a performance of spirit and precision, if occasionally inclined to tidiness of phrasing at the expense of weight – as at the start of the first movement’s development section, where slight hurrying detracts from Beethoven’s fortissimo marking and the boldness of his key-changes. However, with the equally well detailed but less brisk performance by Murray Perahia and English Chamber Orchestra principals gone from the catalogue, and the characterful Naxos version led by Jenö Jandó compromised by

its reverberant recording, the very well recorded Gaudiers are now the

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front-runners here. Anthony Burton