BEETHOVEN: String Quintet in E-flat, Op. 4; String Quintet in C, Op. 29 – The Nash Ensemble – Hyperion CDA67693, 62:57 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
Beethoven’s Opus 4 Quintet (string quartet plus additional viola) is an integral reworking of his early wind Octet (published posthumously as Op. 103). Comparisons between the two are moot; the string “version”, if it can even be called that, is a vast improvement over the original, reflecting the composer’s rapid maturity of style that took place in the few years before the turn of the 18th century.
The Opus 29 is Beethoven’s only original work for the quintet medium, or at least fully complete work. It appears about eight years after his Opus 4 rework and is a prophetic piece quite ahead of its chronology. The first two movements, clocking in at about ten minutes each, are among his most expansive and developed compositions to date, each reveling in an exquisite intricacy that point toward the adventure of his “second period” instead of just moments away from the advent of the first. The warmth and amazingly involved textures of the piece, almost orchestral in sound and solidly conceived in harmonic minutiae, remain a calling card of one of Beethoven’s most impressive early efforts, and deserving far more performances than it normally receives (about 14 in the current catalog).
The Nash Ensemble has a fine reputation for quality chamber recordings of all stripes, and this one is no exception. If it lacks that last degree of energy and propulsion (as exemplified by the superb reading of the Endellion Quartet on Warner Classics) this ultimately does not detract from the compulsive and idiomatic reading of two works that don’t represent the best of Beethoven but certainly one of them is well worth hearing while the other provides 30 minutes of entertainment. The sound is rich and close in, not exactly audiophile in nature, but clear and clean in all respects.
French Romantic and Impressionism… Ivan Ilich