Here is a golden opportunity to expand your Beethoven collected oeuvre, given the absolutely compelling renditions of Beethoven’s four-hand pieces by Zdenka and Martin Hrsel, the Prague Piano Duo. The D Major Sonata (1796) Beethoven accorded legitimacy by dedicating it an opus number. He likely performed this eminently social piece with a fellow student in Vienna. The opening movement and final bars of the rondo resound with a four-note “fate” motif we came to know much better. The Six Variations in D Major, WoO 74 sets a song by Goethe in romantic conceits, sometimes dissipating into monody, in the style of lied or ballad. The Three Marches (1803) are a product of Vienna, although sketches go back to Bonn. They are dedicated to Princes Maria Esterhazy. The last Beethoven humorously called it “a quick 3-step,” despite its lasting five minutes. Prior to this bouncy inscription of the set, I only knew these through a Marlboro Festival inscription with Cecile Licad and Mieczyslaw Horszowski. The 1792 Eight Variations in C Major, WoO 67 derive from a Schubert-sounding theme supplied by Count Ferdinand von Waldstein. There are several virtuosic touches: syncopations, spreading the theme over three octaves and the like, and some delicate tracery in the upper registers.
While Beethoven obstinately refused to supply publishers with piano-reductions of his symphonies, composer-pianist Franz Liszt initiated a serious effort in 1837, transcribing four symphonies for piano solo according to what Liszt felt was the most thorough and natural music-practice of his time. Hugo Ulrich (1827-1872) sought to capture the music’s demonic rhythmic impetus without distorting the urtext with unnecessary keyboard flourishes. The austerity of the musical line makes Beethoven’s harmony and texture perfectly clear. When power and sonority must have their sway, the resources are there to make the whirls and paroxysms quite effective. Recorded in Prague February-March 2005 in surround sound, the medium seems to have been waiting through the entire disc for the Seventh to break loose, and then you caught in the transcendent dance that is forever Beethoven.