Beethoven & Walton

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven & Walton
LABELS: Channel
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven & Walton
WORKS: String Quartet in F, Op. 135
PERFORMER: Amsterdam Sinfonietta
CATALOGUE NO: CCS SA 23005
Arrangements for string orchestra of works originally written for string quartet are not uncommon, especially in the cases of Beethoven and Schubert (never with Haydn or Mozart). It’s sometimes said that these composers, and a few others, taxed four stringed instruments beyond their limits, and though that may be part of the effect, it also seems a good idea to hear what the works sound like when the players aren’t at the end of their tethers.

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The orchestrations which the Amsterdam Sinfonietta present on this disc are less drastic than their predecessors. In the first movement the added instruments, and the two double basses, doubling the cellos, make little difference. But in the amazing scherzo, with its huge climax not long before the movement’s end, the extra weight makes a substantial and thrilling difference. And in the slow third movement (very slow, 53 bars lasting over nine minutes) there is an organ-like solemnity added by the basses, and that needs the supplementary upper strings to get the proper balance. This is not one of the greatest performances of Op. 135 – I think a string quartet is necessary for that – but I’m impressed.

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The Walton piece is an arrangement made at Neville Marriner’s request, partly by Walton, partly by Malcolm Arnold, of the early Quartet in A minor, with some adjustments and cuts. It is a complete success, making the piece sound as if it had originally been conceived for string orchestra. Michael Tanner