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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Clarinet Trio in B flat major, Op. 11 (1797-98) [20:43]
Septet in E flat major, Op. 20 (1799-1800) [39:18]
The Nash Ensemble (Michael Collins (clarinet), Frank Lloyd (horn), Brian
Wightman (bassoon), Marcia Crayford (violin), Roger Chase (viola), Christopher van Kampen (cello), Rodney Slatford (bass), Ian Brown (piano))
rec. Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London, October 1989 (Trio); St. Martin’s Church, East Woodhay, Newbury, November 1989 (Septet). DDD
VIRGIN CLASSICS 5221262 [60:30] 
Experience Classicsonline

This very apposite coupling of two of Beethoven’s early and most delightful chamber works has been reissued before.  The recordings first came out in 1990 and then re-released as a budge double with the Schubert Octet in the mid-1990s.  At least I think these are the same recordings, not having the earlier versions at hand.  If so, and even if not, there seems to be a glaring error in the listing of one of the members of the Nash Ensemble in the inside cover of the accompanying booklet that should be corrected for future issues.  The pianist for the Trio is listed as Iona Brown vice Ian Brown.  Iona Brown, of course, was the late violinist/leader/conductor of the
Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and Norwegian Chamber Orchestra and not, to my knowledge, also a pianist.  Whereas, Ian Brown is indeed the regular pianist with the Nash Ensemble!  The presentation of the rather attractive booklet also has the Clarinet Trio in B flat minor rather than B flat major, though the French translation as listed is “majeur.”  The lighthearted Trio is naturally in the major key.  The sloppiness of the booklet does not extend to Stephen Pettitt’s excellent notes, however.  While the notes are not all that extensive, they tell the listener about the history of each work and describe the pieces very well.  For example, it is mentioned that Beethoven borrowed the catchy tune for the variations of the Trio’s finale from Joseph Weigl’s opera L’amor marinaro, though initially not to Beethoven’s knowledge.  His Vienna publisher had given him the theme without revealing its prominence.  Once Beethoven found this out, he was furious.  Luckily he had already composed his nine variations which end the Trio in great style.  Likewise, the familiar minuet theme of the Septet’s third movement is a borrowing from Beethoven’s own Piano Sonata, Op. 49, No. 2, one of the composer’s “easy sonatas” that many a budding pianist learns for recital. 

Now to the disc, itself.  Both performances are well known and have been highly regarded in the past.  To my knowledge this is the only disc currently available that couples them together.  The Schubert Octet was present on their earlier incarnation as a double disc set, but did not receive the acclaim that the Beethoven did.  Thus, it was a good idea to re-release them again as a single.  If this is priced in the budget or super-budget category, it is a real bargain.  As far as I can tell, its release in the U.S. seems to be at mid-price.  Nevertheless, this CD if or anyone who either does not know or have these examples of the lighter side of Beethoven.  They represent some of his most tuneful and pleasant music, showing the influences of Mozart (especially the wind serenades) and Haydn and yet containing the unmistakable stamp of the Beethoven to come.  The Nash Ensemble’s performances leave nothing to be desired.  They are impeccable in their tuning, and the tempos are spot-on.  The players obviously relish this music and sound like they are really enjoying themselves.   There is plenty of competition out there for these works, but the Nash really can hold their own.  I compared this recording of the Septet with the more recent one by Gil Shaham, Truls Mørk, et al on Arte Nova (coupled with the Beethoven Triple Concerto) and find them about equal in merit.  However, it could be argued that the Nash has the more appropriate coupling, and theirs is the more vibrant sounding recording. 

I, therefore, welcome back these performances.  Now if EMI/Virgin will only correct the booklet!

Leslie Wright


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