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Hyperion Records

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Ruins of Oybin Monastery 'The Dreamer' (1835/40) by Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840)
Hermitage, St Petersburg, Russia / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67693
Recording details: September 2007
St Paul's Church, Deptford, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: January 2009
Total duration: 33 minutes 9 seconds

'Flawless, superbly disciplined performances of Beethoven's two string quintets … this new disc from Hyperion has to be warmly welcomed for its first-rate sound and immaculate performances' (Gramophone)

'I can't envisage a more satisfying account of these works' (BBC Music Magazine)

'A work of conspicuous originality [Op 29], power and wit, as The Nash Ensemble demonstrate in their eloquent, sprightly performance … The Nash also give a lively account of an even greater rarity, the early E flat Quintet … something genuinely worthwhile' (The Sunday Times)

'The rich-toned violas of Lawrence Power and Philip Dukes lend an almost orchestral sonority to the superb playing of The Nash Ensemble, beautifully caught by producer Andrew Keener' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Two less-often-heard works by a great composer make a tuneful programme, well played by the Nash Ensemble' (Daily Mail)

'Throughout the Nash musicians are superb, and in particular the central viola parts come through well. The performers bring a commendable sense of purpose and togetherness that gives these works a youthful vigour, and in the case of Opus 29, shows how Beethoven was really starting to flex his compositional muscles. The recorded sound is excellent, too' (

String Quintet in C major, Op 29
1801; the last movement is sometimes nicknamed 'The Storm'

Allegro moderato  [10'09]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
With Beethoven’s String Quintet in C major Op 29, his sole work originally conceived for the medium, we move to 1801 and the final phase of his so-called ‘first period’. This strangely neglected masterpiece is Janus-headed, at once retrospective and prophetic. Although Beethoven did not model the work directly on any of Mozart’s string quintets, he never wrote a more voluptuously Mozartian slow movement than the Adagio molto espressivo. On the other hand, the tranquil expansiveness and harmonic breadth of the quintet’s first movement prefigure later masterpieces like the first ‘Razumovsky’ String Quartet, Op 59 No 1, and the ‘Archduke’ Piano Trio.

This opening Allegro moderato is the most spaciously conceived piece Beethoven had written to date, the enlargement of scale prompted, as in Mozart’s quintets, by the added richness and variety of texture created by the second viola. The movement’s tonal scheme, too, looks ahead to later Beethoven. The second theme, calm and lyrical, like the first, is set not in the expected dominant, G, but in the more remote submediant, A major, reached via A minor. Beethoven then turns poetically to F major—another modulation by thirds—before a reprise of the skittering triplet transition theme and the opening melody, now equivocating between A major and A minor. Consistent with the harmonic range of the exposition, the development, moving in unhurried sequences, is perhaps the most tonally far-reaching in early Beethoven, and contains a magnificently sonorous, quasi-orchestral statement of the main theme in a rich, exotic D flat major. The recapitulation is regular in outline but full of inventive new detail. In keeping with the scale of the whole movement, there is a grandly spacious coda which combines the main theme, the triplet figure and a new syncopated figure to produce a resplendent climax.

The sonata-form Adagio molto espressivo, in F major, has a similar lyric breadth. With its ornate Italianate lines and luxuriant richness of colour it is also one of the most sheerly sensuous movements that Beethoven ever wrote: listen, for instance, to the gorgeous rescoring of the main theme in the recapitulation. As in many Mozart slow movements, the development largely ignores the material of the exposition in favour of a new, impassioned cantilena, which is later recalled, with an added urgency, in the coda.

For all its bounding energy, the Scherzo has an air of genial relaxation, making humorous capital out of the insistent three-note arpeggio figure first heard in the very opening bar. The trio begins in F major (the key of the Adagio), but then sinks to D flat as Beethoven works the same three-note figure in a massively sonorous passage over a rustic drone in the second viola.

With its explosive pianissimo tremolos (a foretaste here of Schubert’s C minor Quartettsatz), and fragmentary, combustible main theme, enhanced by ‘lightning flashes’ on its restatement by the cello, the 6/8 finale has been nicknamed ‘The Storm’ in German-speaking countries. A childlike contrasting theme, almost a nursery tune, appears in A flat, a key as unorthodox as the A major of the first movement. In the development the ‘storm’ atmosphere returns with a vengeance, with snatches of the main theme contrapuntally combined with a pair of new ideas in 2/4 time. Then, with the tension barely dispelled, the tempo changes to Andante con moto e scherzoso, the key, significantly, to A major (the main secondary key of the first movement), for an exaggeratedly courtly minuet, its mincing gait comically punctuated by sudden forte chords. The storm then returns, leading quickly to a more-or-less orthodox recapitulation. But Beethoven has two more surprises up his sleeve: a repeat of the Andante, now in C major (and with the forte interruptions exaggerated to fortissimo), and a coda that plunges into A flat, the key of the innocent second subject, confirming yet again that the relationship of keys a third apart is a prime preoccupation of this marvellously inventive work.

from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2009

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