Beethoven, Verdi

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Verdi
WORKS: String Quartet in C sharp minor, Op. 131 (arr. Mitropoulos)
PERFORMER: Vienna PO/André Previn
CATALOGUE NO: 463 579-2
‘The unnatural mania… for transferring even pianoforte compositions to string instruments, instruments which in all respects are so different from one another, should really be checked,’ complained Beethoven to his publishers Breitkopf & Härtel. One might have thought that arrangements of string quartets for string orchestra constituted a rather less significant corruption, but this disc suggests otherwise. The effect of 20 or more violins playing a line originally assigned to one is to alter immeasurably the texture and timbre of the sound. Particularly in the bleak opening of Beethoven’s Op. 131 String Quartet, but not only here, the rich luxuriance of the Viennese string sound clashes uncomfortably with the sparse simplicity of Beethoven’s writing. It is obvious, but bears pointing out, that if Beethoven had set out to write a piece for string orchestra, he would not have written this piece. Not that Previn and the orchestra fail to do justice to Dimitri Mitropoulos’s arrangement. It is just that playing it at all is of questionable utility. The Verdi Quartet (in Toscanini’s edition) survives the treatment in better shape, especially the rumbustious third and fourth movements, but I would rather hear the Vienna Philharmonic doing many things before oddities like these. Christopher Wood