top of page

Review: Beethoven

The MHS Review 379 Vol. 11, NO. 1 • 1987

click on the cover to return to the table of contents

Robert Finn, The Plain Dealer (November 9, 1986)


not yet released.png

BEETHOVEN: Piano Quartets in E-flat (Op. 16) and C Major (WoO 36, No. 3). Members of An die Musik.

The E-flat piano quartet on this record is fairly well known. It is an arrangement by Beethoven himself of his opus 16 quintet for piano, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon. The C major work is one of Beethoven's juvenile pieces (he was all of 14 when he wrote it) that he did not dignify with opus numbers (the abbreviation "WoO" stands for "werke ohne opuszahle", and may be conveniently thought of in English as "without opus number").

Performers on this record are violinist Eliot Chapa, violist Richard Brice, cellist Daniel Rothmuller, and pianist Constance Emmerich. The designation "members of" recognizes the fact that one member of the group, oboist Gerard Reuter, does not appear on the record.

The opus 16 piece, a charmer in its original piano-and-winds version, works very well indeed as a piece for piano with string trio. It dates from 1797, a full dozen years after the C major piece that partners it on this record, and while it does not by any means represent Beethoven at the summit of his characteristic later style, it is a suave, beguiling piece that deserves more frequent hearings than it gets, whether in its wind or string version.

I have always felt that this piece may have been some sort of bow by Beethoven in Mozart's direction, since the theme of its slow movement bears some resemblance to Zerlina's "Batti, batti" from Don Giovan­ni, and the main theme of the last movement seems likewise descended from another tune in the same opera, the Don's "Meta di voi qua vadano."

The performance is expert, with the balance among the four players beautifully maintained throughout. My only objection-and this applies equally to the C major quartet on the other side-is that the sound of Emmerich's piano is dull and tubby.

The C major piano quartet shows the adolescent Beethoven very much under the stylistic spell of Haydn. The writing is much more mechanical than that in the E-flat piece. It is graceful and pretty enough, but formula­-ridden. The piano has the dominant part in the ensemble, though in the middle of the slow movement there are brief solo spots for violin and cello, as if to keep the players of those parts satisfied. Pianists will recognize several themes in this quartet from their later use by Beethoven in his first two piano sonatas.

Aside from the excellent performances by the members of An die Musik, this record is chiefly valuable for making available the opus 16 quartet in this successful alternate version and for pointing up how far Beethoven advanced technically and stylistically in the dozen years that separate the two pieces.

bottom of page