Septet in E-flat, Op.20 (1799-1800)
Members of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra:
- Oliver Janes, clarinet
- Margaret Cookhorn, bassoon
- Mark Phillips, horn
- Kate Suthers, violin
- Chris Yates, viola
- David Powell, cello
- Julian Atkinson, double bass
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 27 November, 2020
Venue: CBSO Centre, Birmingham. Recorded on 15th July and broadcast on 27th November 2020
Although only now being relayed, this was actually the first event undertaken by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra after the first lockdown earlier this year and there could be few more appropriate pieces by which to herald a return to live music-making than Beethoven’s Septet.
Not for nothing was this work among the most popular among Beethoven’s works during his lifetime – its underlying conception following on from the later divertimentos and serenades of Mozart, yet with an emphasis on instrumental virtuosity – not least those almost concertante roles accorded clarinet and violin – as epitomises the vitality and confidence of the younger composer. Such is evident from the opening movement, with its imposing introduction then buoyant Allegro as confirms the symphonic aspiration of music ostensibly for entertainment.
The CBSO ensemble took these demands in its collective stride, then brought out the pathos of an Adagio whose central section admits of more ominous expression. The elegance of the Menuetto had the right touch of guile, then the Theme and Variations (whose opening phrase recalls the marching-song The British Grenadiers) gave all the players a turn in the spotlight. The Scherzo lacked for a degree of impetus, but not so the Finale’s introduction that teasing portentousness as made the Presto even more engaging in its rounding-off of the whole work.
As Kate Suthers mentioned at the start, all six movements were recorded in a single take – any lapse in intonation more than outweighed by the gain in formal cohesion and expressive flow. It certainly made for a joyous contribution to the 250th-anniversary year of Beethoven’s birth.
Performance available until 1st January 2021 at https://cbso.co.uk/event/beethoven-septet