Antony Hodgson
Classical Source
August 2019

Arrangements of eighteenth-century orchestral masterpieces for chamber ensemble or piano have captured the interest of musicians recently and David Owen Norris is currently researching the subject. Often, as in this Mozart-transcriptions selection, the flute takes the leading part, accompanied by strings, but a piano is used frequently.

Mozart conceded that in his Piano Concertos K413-K415 the solo instrument could be accompanied by a string quartet. On this Hyperion release, despite the central European nationality of the arrangers, the selected works were all published in London, for flute, violin, cello and piano.

It is not clear to what extent these arrangements were used for performance at the homes of music-lovers. Johann Baptist Cramer’s transcription of K467 would surely have been beyond the capabilities of amateurs. In fact the solo part has been elaborated, a likely reason being that half-a-century later, pianos would have a longer keyboard than was available to Mozart, and Cramer exploits it; delightful high-octave repetitions of the melodies in the Finale typify his use of this facility. There are also a few minor abbreviations of repeated notes and Norris is not afraid to decorate boldly. The slow movement is eloquent although, shorn of orchestral support, the piano is insistent, despite Norris’s sensitive reading. Insistence of another kind is to be found in the Finale and the flute part enlivens it to great effect. Norris takes an eager approach and the bold tone of his reconstructed Broadwood enhances this vivid reading.

Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s representation of the Overtures is skilfully done although the sparse scoring cannot begin to represent the serious nature of some of the episodes. The gravity of The Magic Flute with its unmistakeable Masonic significance does not come over, although the playing is imaginative. Figaro relies heavily on the piano. It is logical that a measured tempo is adopted, details would be lost otherwise, although the overall impression is one of carefulness. Muzio Clementi is not the only one to reduce the ‘Jupiter’ Symphony (said to have been so-named by impresario Johann Peter Salomon, who brought Haydn to London). There is also a notable reduction made Peter Lichtenthal (1780-1853) for flute and string quartet but Clementi has created a most discerning representation.

This Norris-led interpretation is immensely satisfying; if only orchestral performances were always as perceptive as this. The tempos are ideal and Norris holds strictly to them; there are no whims or fancies. The Symphony’s structure is clearly represented, every repeat is made and one’s attention is held throughout the forty-minute performance. Clementi strongly features the piano but he is able skilfully to represent all the inner lines—a remarkable feat in the complex fugal Finale.