The Nash Ensemble continues its critically acclaimed survey of Beethoven’s rarer chamber music in an intriguing new disc.
The String Quintet Op 104 is an arrangement of Beethoven’s revolutionary Piano Trio No 3, a work which shocked contemporary listeners. Beethoven’s brilliance as an arranger is not perhaps his most well-known musical characteristic, but it is vividly apparent here; the transformation from piano to string writing ushering in an explosion of colour. The music is profoundly Beethovenian in its abrupt, extreme contrasts, violent rhetoric alternating with intense pathos and yearning lyricism. The famous heroic narratives of Beethoven’s ‘middle period’ are already in view. The Piano Quartet in E flat major Op 16 is an arrangement of his Quintet for piano and winds (also Op 16), and owes a debt to Mozart in general and his piano and wind quintet in particular. However Beethoven’s voice and methods remain his own. Mozart had subtly interwoven the piano and the wind quartet. Beethoven, working on a more expansive scale, sets them in opposition, so that the outer movements at times resemble a chamber concerto for piano.
The disc is completed by a delightful miniature, which reveals the young firebrand composer at his most graceful and amenable. Impeccable recorded sound and matchless performances make this an unmissable disc for chamber music enthusiasts.
The Piano Quartet… is unadulterated Beethoven - his own transcription of his Op. 16 Quintet for piano and winds, with the wind instruments replaced by a string trio. The result deserves to be heard far more frequently, and the players of the Nash Ensemble do it proud. Theirs is a notably autumnal view of this early piece of Beethoven, but the performance has great warmth. BBC Music Magazine ****
The Nash Ensemble give wonderfully polished performances of all three works, beautifully recorded, but special mention must be made of Ian Brown's piano-playing in the delicious galloping 6/8 rondo finale of the Piano Quartet, totally infectious. Gramophone