To most concertgoers, Beethoven is the composer of monumental, heroic gestures. His representative creations -- the symphonies (preferably odd-numbered), the late quartets and piano sonatas – are filled with big gestures and giant torments and ecstasies of genius. The tuneful and pleasant side of Beethoven is a much harder sell.
But the Septet has many endearing qualities. Composed in 1800, it is a genial work in the spirit of an 18th-century serenade. Like Schubert’s Octet, it is in six movements and scored for clarinet, horn, bassoon, contrabass and strings. And while 50 minutes of radiant E-flat major warmth can grow tiring, it’s best to approach this work on its own terms, rather than compare it to the Fifth Symphony.
The Nash Ensemble recorded the Septet in 1990 and its recording remains the one to beat. Tempos are judicious and intonation is impeccable. The ensemble is just as convincing in Beethoven’s Clarinet Trio, from 1798 and scored for clarinet, cello and piano. Again, it contains qualities one does not necessarily associate with the most familiar of Beethoven’s music but the Nash keeps it lively and fresh throughout.
Beethoven: Septet Op. 20, Clarinet Trio No. 4 Op. 11
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