"Mozart was the supreme example of the great composer who could readily turn his hand to the writing of what we would nowadays describe as 'background music' and lavish on it all the skill and artistry that he put into his most serous works, and he remains unsurpassed — many would say unequalled — in his intuitive feeling for the timbres and capabilities of the various wind instruments and his perceptiveness in writing for them. Yet in the young Beethoven he had an able disciple. Young, because the majority of Beethoven's chamber works scored either entirely or partially for wind instruments were written before he reached the age of 30 in 1800; thus appropriately, if accidentally, confining themselves within the boundaries of the I 8th century, one facet of which is so vividly portrayed in the entertainment music prodigally supplied by composers great and not so great to beguile the leisure hours of their princely patrons and employers.
The Sextet in E flat for two clarinets, two horns and two bassoons, placed first in this recording, was completed in Vienna in 1796, but the first two movements may have been written earlier than this, and sketches exist for the last two. In fact Beethoven's assertion, in a letter he wrote to the Liepzig publishers Breitkopf & Harrel (who published it in April 1810, with the misleading opus number 71) on 8th August 1809, that it was "composed in one night", is fabrication or, at best, forgetfulness. The piece was performed the first time in Vienna in April 1805, and comprises four movements: mems: a spirited sonata-form Allegro (with some bravura writing for the first clarinet), prefaced by a brief introductory Adagio; a short but florid Adagio in B flat; a sturdy Minuet begun by the horns, enclosing a Trio in which they are silent; and a concluding Rondo based on a marching refrain, whose jollity is briefly overcast in the first, minore, episode.
The Quintet in E flat for oboe, three horns and bassoon seems to have originated, in 1793 or earlier, as a sextet with clarinet, but the clarinet part never progressed beyond the clef and the key-signature, and all that survives of the work is the recapitulation of the first movement preceded by the last movement, preceded by the last 22 bars of the development; the slow movement; ment; and the first 19 bars of the Minuet. In 1862 the Austrian composer and teacher Leopold Alexander Zellner produced the performing version recorded here, by supplying the first movement with a spacious exposition (based on the recapitulation) and an imaginative development, and by completing the Minuet (but without adding a Trio, or a finale. as Beethoven presumably intended). It was published by Schott in Mainz in 1954, in an edition by Willy Hess.
The other two pieces recorded here date from 1792 and were designed as 'table music' for the court of Maximilian Franz. Elector of Cologne, in Bonn. They were among the last works that Beethoven wrote for the Elector (in whose service he had been since 1784), for early in November that year, when a French revolutionary army was already marching on the Rhine and Maximilian Franz had taken refuge in Cleve, he left his native Bonn for Vienna, where he was to live for the remaining 35 years of his life. The Rondo in E flat (or Rondino, as it is more usually, though less logically, called), first published in 1830 by Diabelli, for pairs of oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoons, is most felicitously scored, especially in the refrain itself and its two varied and embellished reappearances, separated by minor-key episodes. In the last bars the coda the two horns are required to play alternately un-muted and muted, but how the Bonn players achieved this effect, having to hand-stop some of the notes on their valveless instruments in any case, is not clear.
The Octet in the same key and for the same instruments, which Beethoven described, on the tide-page of his autobiography score, as a 'Parthia clans on concert', also did not appear in print until 1830, three years after his death, which accounts for the absurdly misleading opus number (103) assigned to it in the catalogue issued in 1851 by Breitkopf & Hartel A year or two later Beethoven made a substantial revision of the Octet for string quintet (with two violas), which was published in Vienna in 1796 as Op.4 — a process undoubtedly suggested to him by Mozart's own arrangement of his Serenade in C minor for wind Octet, K388/384a, as a string Quintet (K406/516b), The first of its four movements is a sturdy sonata-form Allegro that is to a great extent dominated by the trim little motif played by the first oboe in the first four ban; observe the brief but telling flourishes allotted to first clarinet and second horn after the recapitulation. The second movement m— is a lilting Andante in B flat, which is essentially a dialogue between first oboe and first bassoon. Next comes a springy Scherzo, masquerading as a Minuet, based on octave leaps and scales, enclosing a Trio featuring first clarinet and first bassoon, and, to end with, a witty and colourful rondo with splendid parts for the two horn players.” - C Robin Golding, 1986
Reviews"There are four wonderful pieces of Beethoven wind chamber music on this release from Sanctuary Classics. The Wind Soloists of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe-here oboes, clarinets, horns, and bassoons-perform this music with great vigor... The Rondino and Octet are the best two pieces on the recording, but the Octet is my favorite. Not only is it the finest piece of music, but the Wind Soloists mastered its interpretation and technique to the point where it sounds fresh. Beethoven deserves and demands to be played with a bit of edge and abrasiveness, but should not sound raw. There are few better performances of Beethoven's chamber music than this one of the Octet. This is a very rewarding and gratifying recording." -ARG