The idea of performing Beethoven’s 1826 F Major String Quartet in symphonic form is not new: Arturo Toscanini played the two interior movements in several of his NBC programs. Leonard Bernstein recorded the concerted form of the piece with the Vienna Philharmonic for DGG. The Amsterdam Sinfonietta (c. 33 players), with its more modest forces, recorded the F Major in March 2005, taking advantage of “the intimate character of the string quintet concept. . .exhibiting a maximum of flexibility and articulation.” The juxtaposition of Beethoven and Walton, moreover, came of a decision to contrast their very different hues and musical languages. The second and fourth movements of the Beethoven stand out, particularly the wild ride of the Vivace, with its persistent ostinati; the last movement pizzicati are deftly done.
William Walton himself arranged his A Minor for string orchestra at the 1971 behest of Sir Neville Marriner. The last movement was actually scored by Malcolm Arnold under the composer’s supervision. Walton cut the first movement by thirty-five bars and altered key relationships and dynamics. The Walton possesses an eerie beauty and wispy melancholy. There might be a touch or two of Stravinsky‚s “white” period – say Apollon musagete – in the affect. The influence of Vaughan Williams is no less a factor. The surround sound medium is a perfect vehicle for the antiphonal and fugato strings in the opening movement. The Presto is a fierce, bravura study in motion and timbre, including col legno effects. The modal Lento is the heart of the piece, and it has a heart-throb impulse reminiscent of Tchaikovsky’s Andante cantabile. The Allegro molto throws a series of metric configurations at us, settling on a light, tremolando motif that bristles more or less savagely as it proceeds. A folkish viola melody over plucked strings brings a decidedly bucolic air palliative to the fitful fevers. I am reminded of Bloch’s First Concerto Grosso.
Running a bit short, the Wagner chamber version of A Siegfried Idyll or Britten’s Simple Symphony might have proved perfect fillers on this disc.
— Gary Lemco