GMCD 7274 – Beethoven – Contemporary Arrangements for Chamber Ensemble
The Locrian Ensemble – Rolf Wilson & Rita Manning -Violins, Philip Dukes & Morgan Goff – Violas, Justin Pearson – Cello
The Locrian Ensemble consists of 2 violinists, Rolf Wilson and Rita Manning, 2 violists, Philip Dukes and Morgan Goff, with Cellist Justin Pearson. My colleague Brian Hick, came across them on a cruise, as told in his Cellist on the High Seas article an page 19, and listening to this excellently recorded and presented Guild CD I can only add my own praise for their musicianship, It seems only fair that this repertoire is so off the beaten track, lying an shelves for a couple of centuries, it deserves every now and again to be lifted and have the dust blown off before being played. As such, these arrangements of three of Beethoven’s familiar works by lesser composers of his own time, probably made to suit groups of friends to play at home, demonstrate all too clearly that Beethoven knew what he was doing when putting pen to manuscript paper. Nevertheless, the playing is first rate and I look forward to hear these gifted string players in ideal music for their ensemble.
International Record Review – January 2005
Beethoven of a different kind is to be found on a new Guild CD, ‘Contemporary Arrangements for Chamber Ensemble’, of the First and Eighth Symphonies and the Pathétique Sonata, played by the Locrian Ensemble. We know that Beethoven himself arranged the Second Symphony for pinao trio and the Piano Sonata, Op. 14 No. 1 for string quartet, among other transcriptions, but so far as modern scholarship is concerned, Derek Adlam’s excellent notes point out that we do not know who made these arrangements, although it is undeniable that they were made during Beethoven’s lifetime: sometimes, as in the Eighth Symphony transcription, not long after the work first appeared in its original guise. Whoever made these versions, they were done by a most gifted musician (or more than one), and I found it truly enlightening to hear the Sonata played as a string quintet. The performances are admirable, as is the recording.
BBC Music Magazine – November 2004
‘The question of arrangements’, Beethoven once acknowledged, ‘is altogether one which a composer would resist in vain’, and these anonymous string quintet transcriptions of three of his most famous works give us an idea of what he had to endure. The arrangements of the Eighth Symphony and the Pathétique Sonata are actually surprisingly resourceful, and rather superior to Beethoven’s own attempt at a string quartet version of his Op. 14/1 Piano Sonata; and the Locrain Ensemble’s gutsy performances make a persuasive case for them.
Much less successful as a transcription is the Symphony No. 1. This was the very arrangement that aroused Beethoven’s ire when it was issued as though it were authentic. In fact, it makes little attempt to reproduce the energy of the original (though slightly more alert tempi might have helped the outer movements in the Locrian Ensemble’s performance), and was clearly made for players who couldn’t manage semiquaver tremolos. A missing bar in the slow movement’s exposition makes nonsense of a rising harmonic sequence, and should have been inserted (it’s there in the recapitulation); and a prominent misprint in the minuet – D flat in place of D natural – could also have been corrected. But this well-recorded disc is an enterprising and enjoyable venture.
MusicWeb Thursday October 10 04
An imaginative disc … performances are well integrated and sound well rehearsed.
This imaginative disc – not the first and assuredly not the last to explore the contemporary chamber arrangements of Beethoven’s compositions – works rather well as a programme. All three works were arranged for string quintet during Beethoven’s lifetime, though not necessarily by him and in fact not necessarily by two of his most famous acolytes and copyists Czerny and Ries. Both certainly did make arrangements of their teacher’s music but none of these three works can be ascribed definitively to them or anyone else. It’s not even certain that they gained Beethoven’s imprimatur either, though the booklet notes speculate that “presumably” they did.
The three arrangements appeared shortly after the premieres of the works in their original guise: the Pathétique about eight years after premiere and then, escalating, the First Symphony three years after publication of the orchestral score and the Eighth two years afterwards. Certainly they function idiomatically for domestic consumption. If the Pathétique is the most unusual involving a transferred medium is involved and keyboard complexities are translated to an all-string medium. The Symphonies are probably the most rewarding in terms of elucidating the scores, tracing harmonic implications and otherwise gaining a greater understanding of the compositional issues.
The Pathétique was recorded in St Martin’s Church, East Woodhay which is very slightly too resonant an acoustic; more so than St Silas Church, Chalk Farm, where the symphonies were recorded. But it does suit the amplitude of the quintet medium well enough and the playing is loyal, colourful and adept. It’s an odd experience listening to this transformed Piano Sonata with its flighty passagework for the first fiddle and the strong inner part writing for violas and anchoring cello. The first movement lacks the vehemence of the original and the second – though I agree with the notes about the cantabile aspect – rather loses the starkness of the piano version. Symphonic work is, of course, simplified in these arrangements but the inner part writing is admirably conveyed. I was especially taken by the Allegretto of the Eighth. This does justice to its gruff wit and shows just how convincing a structure it is as well as why it should be so successful.
The booklet notes are helpful. The performances are well integrated and sound well rehearsed. I’m not quite sure what constituency the disc will have – but who knows, perhaps it will encourage a spate of domestic music making in emulation.
MusicWeb Wednesday August 25 04
An interesting concept, brought off with real élan. All of these arrangements are contemporary with the composer (all within Beethoven’s lifetime). The snag is no-one’s quite sure who did them. The Pathétique arrangement was published in 1807 (or thereabouts) by Tobias Haslinger, who may have been the arranger himself. Actually, it is remarkably effective, once the shock of the opening chord is over. Instead of a hard-edged piano accent, the strings are more cushioned, taking away some of the visceral nature of the moment. The performance by the Locrian Ensemble is alive, if curiously somewhat distanced. Part-writing is by the very nature of the beast clearer and a C-minor energy does flow throughout the first movement.
The famous slow movement is very lyrical and restful (when one plays it there is a tendency to think in terms of the string quartet, anyway – it is even notated to imply a quartet of some description!). The finale has a relevant feeling of forward motion, unfortunately sagging in the middle (as the players seem to get a little self-indulgent).
The Eighth Symphony is next in playing order (the listed playing order on the front cover is exactly in reverse!). It’s amazing how much energy the Locrian Ensemble brings to the first movement; even the very opening is the requisite explosion of joy! This is furious and zesty playing – it really sounds as if they went for it in the studio! The diminuendo in the opening bars of the ‘mechanistic’ second movement may raise eyebrows (it demeans the tick-tock element) and the third movement is perhaps not as muscular as it could be. The finale too suffers from a low-voltage approach.
The First Symphony is more consistently charged and alive. While certain elements are certainly demeaned by the reduced scoring, cheeky exchanges work remarkably well. The brisk tempo for the slow movement is perhaps surprising, but it actually exactly reflects the designation. It is the finale that is the highlight here, definitely comedic and rhythmically on-the-ball. It’s just a little bit tame towards the end; this is a young man’s music, after all.
This is a superb, thoroughly enjoyable disc. Michael Ponder’s recording (he is both Producer and Balance Engineer) is superb, with just the right mount of space, yet letting through all the detail.
Well worth investigation. The Locrian Ensemble excels itself. Do try and hear this disc.