Beethoven & Berwald: Septets / Wigmore Soloists
For their latest project on BIS, the Wigmore Soloists perform two works with unusual instrumentation: Beethoven’s and Berwald’s septets for violin, viola, cello, double bass, clarinet, bassoon and horn.
If the young Beethoven did not aspire to profundity in his own Septet, he nevertheless managed to create a fine balance between light-heartedness and substance. In the tradition of serenade, this work in six movements represents Beethoven at his most warmhearted and relaxed, yet his compositional craft and subtlety are typically sharp. As the septet achieved such fame during his lifetime, Beethoven eventually became irritated by its popularity, which he said overshadowed more mature works.
Best known for his symphonies, Swedish composer Franz Berwald also composed a septet that is in no way imitative of Beethoven’s. Berwald had his own voice and his own musical expression, and his artful handling of the wind instruments deserves praises. Thanks to its attractive transparency, Berwald’s Septet consistently exudes freshness thanks to its endearing musical humor and ranks as the finest of his chamber compositions.
I know the Wigmore Soloists from their very fine 2021 recording of an undisputed masterpiece, Schubert’s Octet. Here they navigate the tricky line between popular and erudite music, and come up with the perfect compromise. Their Beethoven Septet is, quite properly, not treated as the Eroica, but neither is it tossed off with little regard for its true merits. The result is, I think, as fine a Beethoven Septet as I’ve heard.
Franz Berwald’s Septet seems like the perfect pairing for Beethoven’s Septet, since it was written in 1828, the year after Beethoven’s death. But this is, I believe, only the second time the two works have appeared together on one disc; the other was in a 2017 CD from the Uppsala Chamber Soloists. That was a well-played recording, especially the Berwald, but it’s completely outmatched by the new Wigmore Soloists disc. Everything about this new BIS recording is perfectly judged, from the splendid, authentic, joyful performance to the always impeccable BIS engineering, and the fine liner notes by Philip Borg-Wheeler. Very highly recommended.
-- Music for Several Instruments (Dean Frey)
Release Date: April 07, 2023
Catalog Number: BIS-2707
Number of Discs: 1
Period: Classical, Romantic
Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Berwald
Orchestra/Ensemble: Wigmore Soloists
Septet in E-Flat Major, Op. 20
Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Ensemble: Wigmore Soloists
Septet in B-Flat Major
Composer: Franz Berwald
Ensemble: Wigmore Soloists