In the nineteenth century and well into the advent of recorded music there was no possible way for the lovers of music living away from major urban centers to enjoy the large-scale symphonic works and operas given in opera houses and large concert halls. Whereas the art of Mozart and Haydn had developed and become widely popular with the help of extraordinary supporters of the arts, mostly members of the aristocracy, many of the compositions of Romantic composers would have gone largely unnoticed and unrecognized, had it not been for the pioneering endeavors of music publishers in various European nations.
Steiner & Co and Breitkopf & Haertel began to publish arrangements for piano quartet, string quartet, solo piano and voice of symphonies of Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann in the German-speaking areas of Europe, making these compositions available to a wider audience.
Franz Liszt, well into the middle of the century, arranged operatic excerpts for solo piano, so that all over Europe audiences started to become familiar with the great operas of Bellini, Rossini and Verdi. A new and thriving music business was born.
It is uncertain who wrote the arrangement for piano quartet of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55, Eroica . The date of its composition is thought to be in or around 1807, a full four years after the original premiere.
The enterprising British label, Metier invited four musicians to come together and record this Chamber Eroica . Peter Sheppard Skaerved (violin), Dov Scheindlin (viola), Neil Heyde (cello) and Aaron Shorr (piano) play marvelously together, as if they had been doing so for years. The members of the quartet respectfully play what’s written even when what has been arranged by the unknown musician who penned this work is at times unconventionally if not awkwardly scored: the violin is asked to perform the duties of the flute in the original score, or else the viola is often taken out of its comfort zone and into a much-too-high territory that belongs to the violin. And how does this reduction of the Eroica itself sound? Quite satisfying!
The stately opening Allegro Moderato fares well, with no sacrifice of depth or sweep, the melody of the main theme gracefully passed around from piano to the strings and from stringed instrument to stringed instrument. The gravitas of the second movement is there. So is the playfulness of the Scherzo. The massiveness of the final movement cannot be replicated by four players, but in its place we get clarity and clean articulation.
There are moments when the ear of those of us familiar with the Eroica ache to hear the original orchestration, as when the three horns in the Scherzo of the original sound their famous summons. But, by and large, the experience of being introduced to this reduced version of the Eroica satisfies one’s curiosity and pleases.
The CD was recorded at St. John’s, Smith Square, London in 2003. David Lefeber was the engineer, and Jonathan Haskell and Peter Sheppard Skaerved (who also authored the copious notes) did the post-editing. The CD is handsomely packaged, thanks to Stephen Sutton, and is available from www.divineartrecords.com. This listener highly recommends it.