Tuesday 17 September 2019

Playing of great presence, yet on an intimate scale: chamber versions of Beethoven's symphonic music from I Musicanti at Conway Hall

Franz Clement, for whom Beethoven wrote his Violin Concerto, here shown aged 8
Franz Clement, for whom Beethoven wrote his Violin Concerto,
here shown aged 8 in 1789 drawn by Henri Hessell
Beethoven Symphony No. 1, Violin Concerto, Romances in versions for chamber ensemble; I Musicanti; Conway Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 15 September 2019
Beethoven's symphonic music brought to a domestic scale in a contemporary arrangement of his symphony and a modern version of the violin concerto made in the same spirit

On Sunday 15 September 2019 at Conway Hall Sunday Concerts, I Musicanti performed a fascinating programme of Beethoven arrangements, an anonymous version of Symphony No. 1 in C Op. 21 for string quartet which was printed by Beethoven's publisher Simrock 1803, along with modern arrangements of the Violin Concerto in D op. 61 and the two Romances for solo violin and string quintet by composer Carl Hinde. Before the concert, I gave the pre-concert talk looking at the importance of transcription and arrangement, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries, to supply the burgeoning domestic market. A market for which this version of Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 was aimed, enabling amateurs to bring Beethoven's symphony into their drawing rooms.

The arrangement of the symphony is anonymous, but almost certain from the circle around Beethoven; his pupil Carl Czerny did a number of such arrangements of Beethoven's works, and Beethoven himself did a piano trio version of one of his symphonies. It was rather effective, a neat boiling down of the symphony into just four parts (Ben Holland and Raja Halder, violins, Robert Smissen, viola, and Richard Harwood, cello), what we lost in weight and colour we gained in clarity, the sense of four very clear lines, and a sense of real intimacy.
There was a surprisingly delicate start to the symphony, in the slow introduction we had two instruments playing pizzicato and two playing with bows, but the main 'Allegro' fizzed with excitement. This was playing of great presence. It was very much first violin Ben Holland's show, with some fine solo moments for cellist Richard Harwood, but the inner two parts also got their moments in the spotlight. And you felt that there wasn't too much generic filling in the arrangement, it held our interest. The second movement was graceful and elegant, beautifully pointed by the players and the third was rather engaging, played at quite a lick with a real sense of propulsion. The teasing opening to the finale, delightfully played by Ben Holland, led to a really engaging movement, with real presence.

We then heard Carl Hinde's versions of Beethoven's two Romances; written in 1798 and 1802, one of them may be a sketch for a movement from his discarded early violin concerto. Hinde created very effective versions for soloist, Tamás András, and a string quintet, Ben Holland and Raja Halder, violins, Robert Smissen, viola, Richard Harwood, cello, and Leon Bosch double bass. In both, András' elegant singing line was highlighted, with Hinde's deft accompaniment sounding rather Mozartian, in the manner of one of his string Serenades (Mozart would only have died in 1791, seven years before the first Romance).

After the interval the same forces assembled to give the premiere of Carl Hinde's version of Beethoven's Violin Concerto. Hinde's version was capably and imaginatively done (double-bass pizzicato at the opening in lieu of timpani), and we certainly lost the sense of colour and weight brought by performing this work with full symphony orchestra. In a way, the arrangement highlighted the elements of the piece which looked backwards. It is very much a transitional work; for all its revolutionary size (far longer than any contemporary violin concerto), there are elements from Mozart and Haydn with the solo violin part influenced by the French-school of violin playing. It was these that came out, with the intimacy and clarity of the string quintet accompaniment to the fore.

As soloist, Tamás András proved to have a very elegant sense of line, with a lovely speaking tone. His performance was nicely intimate, gauged to the reduced size of the accompaniment so that this was very much a chamber version of the piece. Technically he was superb, and beautifully expressive throughout, though at times perhaps I would have liked a little more sense of his own personality coming through. In the opening movement, there was plenty of drama in the playing, and everyone brought a chamber intensity to the performance. Occasionally I felt the need for a conductor, an outside person to shape the music a little more. The slow movement was nicely intimate, with some lovely arabesques from Andras, here we hardly missed the large body of the orchestra. Throughout the piece we had the sense of a series of nice duets and trios between the soloist and other members o the ensemble, highlighting the real chamber nature of the performance. And so to the uplifting finale, the very lightness of the revised scoring propelling the music into something perkily delightful.

Hinde's arrangement is available, score and parts, from I Musicanti publishing.

Elsewhere on this blog
  • Coruscating: Leila Josefowicz in Colin Matthews with Simon Rattle & the LSO in an all-British opening concert including Emily Howard & William Walton (★★★½) - concert review
  • Prom 74: Beethoven Night is Back: imaginative programming from Andrew Manze and NDR Radiophilharmonie, Hanover (★★★) - concert review
  • An interesting and illuminating mix: I chat to Ensemble Hesperi about combining Scottish Baroque music with Highland dance - interview
  • A listening challenge: Philippe Manoury's large-scale musical fresco for piano duo and electronics in a stunning performance (★★) - Cd review
  • A terrific place to start an exploration of Jonathan Dove's non-operatic output: Lawrence Zazzo, BBC Philharmonic, Timothy Redmond on Orchid Classics  (★★★) - CD review
  • A considerable company achievement: David Blake's Scoring a Century from British Youth Opera - Opera review
  • Prom 63: A 'nice mountain to climb', Yuja Wang, Dresden Staatskapelle, Myung-Whun Chung at the BBC Proms  (★★★) - concert review
  • To avoid being the sort of group which comes in, does a concert & goes away again: I chat to violinist David Le Page, artistic director of the Orchestra of the Swan - interview
  • The Late Romantic Violin: music by Vladigerov, Poulenc & Seaborne (★★★) - CD review
  • Prom 61: Ultimately, rather uninvolved - the Vienna Philharmonic in Dvořák and Korngold (★★★) - concert review
  • All was stylish & expressive, leaving us to enjoy the music & the comedy in such an engaging way that the time sped by: British Youth Opera in Rossini's La Cenerentola  - opera review
  • An unforgettable night: a true slice of history in the making: Bernard Haitink, Vienna Philharmonic & Emmanuel Ax at the BBC Proms (★★★) - concert review
  • Home

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