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The piece better known to pianists comes second on the disc: this Quartet Op 16 is Beethoven’s own arrangement of his Quintet in E-flat for Piano and Winds. Pianist John Irving’s booklet notes discuss, possibly needlessly, which version came first – obviously the wind, Beethoven taking Mozart’s identically-scored K452 as a declared model and including far more bars’ rest (for breathing-space) than string-players ever need. Op 38 is again Beethoven’s own arrangement, this time of the Septet Op 20. At 42 minutes, this six-movement piece is a long listen even in its original full colour: when reduced to just clarinet, cello and piano, it reminds me – even in this excellent performance – of stained-glass windows photographed in black-and-white.

The Ensemble DeNOTE play with historical awareness and humour, while avoiding rabble-rousing histrionics. Pitch (on period instruments) is a semitone down on today’s, the (sadly unidentified) piano keeping the texture light throughout and often unpedalled. This could prompt useful discussion on how much Romantic angst Beethoven’s music actually needs. Composers and orchestrators should study Beethoven’s alterations to suit the new media (all scores are readily available online); and clarinet-cello-piano trio ensembles looking for programme-building items to partner Brahms’ Op 114 and Beethoven’s own Op 11 may take on board not necessarily the whole of Op 38 but at least its finale, a joyous encore.

MICHAEL ROUND Read the full review on Agora Classica

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