International Record Review
This is a most interesting and valuable CD which should commend itself to
all true Beethovenians as well as (naturally) to viola players. Despite
being a proficient violist himself (as well as pianist, of course),
Beethoven left precious little for the instrument, but that which he did,
including an eight-bar fragment from a movement of a projected Sonata for
viola and piano, is included on this disc.
Beethoven's Op. 42, the Notturno for viola and piano, is an arrangement by
Karl Xaver Kleinheinz of the Op. 8 Serenade for string trio and, despite
Beethoven's apparently lukewarm endorsement of this version, he must have
felt (after a few expurgations and emendations) it good enough, for he
allowed it to be published with a new opus number. Another
nineteenth-century arrangement, of the Op. 20 Septet by Friedrich Hermann,
is also here alongside Paul Silverthorne's present-day version of the
Sonata, Op. 17, originally, of course, for horn and piano. This last work
Beethoven himself arranged for cello and piano, varying the horn part en
route, so there is something authentic in rearranging it for a stringed
instrument with which Silverthorne was able to work.
The result, in the case of Op. 17, is extraordinarily successful, an
authentic-sounding Sonata perfectly laid out for the viola (the piano part
remains the same, of course). It is extremely well played by both
Silverthorne and David Owen Norris, and the recorded balance is exemplary.
One's only slight regret is that, at under 12 minutes overall (Beethoven
being mindful of the restrictions of the late-eighteenth-century horn), it
is almost too short a sonata for a stringed instrument (the cello version
notwithstanding), but I found it an entirely convincing and natural-sounding
work in this arrangement.
The instrumental reductions occasioned by the arrangements of the other,
larger, works oblige one to concentrate more on the musical arguments of the
individual pieces rather than on the composer's original instrumentation.
The result is that Beethoven's supreme logic can perhaps be more clearly
appreciated here. Once again, with a performance of the quality here, we can
experience the dedicated and delightful musicianship that these players
bring to this wonderful music.
The authentic Viola Sonata fragment is no more than that, but it is clearly
by Beethoven, and brief though it be it merited recording. The performances
throughout are first-class in every respect, as is the recording quality.
Silverthorne's own booklet notes are a model of informative lucidity. This
is a well-merited addition to the Beethoven discography.
Robert Matthew Walker