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Emmanuel’s Final Beethoven


The final Beethoven concert of the Emmanuel Music season took place in the Parish Hall of Emmanuel Church on the afternoon of Feb. 27. Unlike the others in this chamber music series, this one was all instrumental, taken from the composer’s early years. In his introductory remarks, Emmanuel Music Director Ryan Turner explained that these pieces reflected different aspects of Beethoven’s character: the street smart, the Mozartean, and the most popular piece in the composer’s lifetime (even though he disparaged it.)

First up was the Trio No. 4 in B-flat, op. 11 (“Gassenhauer” Trio), so called because the last movement’s theme came from a wildly popular opera theme in Vienna. I guess this reviewer does not know his early Beethoven well, because this was a first hearing, as well was the second piece, the Quintet for Piano and Winds in E-flat, op. 16.

That said, the Gassenhauer (street song) trio is an impressive piece. Violinist Heidi Braun-Hill (also a Lorraine Hunt Lieberson Fellow), cellist Joshua Gordon, and pianist Leslie Amper acquitted themselves well. The opening movement, marked Allegro con Brio, contains an extraordinary second theme introduced by an equally extraordinary modulation. Then follows the Adagio movement, with its plaintive cello melodies and piano’s descending scale at the conclusion. The third namesake movement, Tema con Variazioni. Allegretto, contains nine variations on the famous theme. This is done with Beethoven’s typical brilliance: first a piano solo, woodwind duets and trio, minor and major modes, and a quicker coda.

The quintet the Quintet for Piano and Winds in E-flat, op. 16 was staffed by Amper on piano, oboist Peggy Pearson, clarinetist Bruce Creditor, bassoonist Thomas Stephenson, and french horn player Whitacre Hill. The composer, taking his impression from Mozart’s K. 452, casts this piece in the same key and scoring. All movements in the piece begin in the same way, with a piano solo answered by the instruments. The program notes refer to Ferdinand Ries reporting on an occasion when the piece was played: Evidently, Beethoven in the last movement began improvising; the other players did not appreciate the composer’s humor. The piece begins in unison, then the piano begins the long Allegro, ma non troppo section. The operatic Andante cantabile is characterized by a particularly beautiful bassoon solo. The third movement, also marked Allegro, ma non troppo, is a rollicking rondo.

The Septet in E-flat, op. 20 followed intermission. This is characterized by six short movements, admirably performed by Creditor, Stephenson, Hill, Heidi Braun-Hill, and Gordon on their respective instruments. They were joined by violist Margaret Dyer and double bassist Thomas Van Dyck, also a 2010-2011 Lorraine Hunt Lieberson Fellow. In following popular tastes, the septet is a simple form, harking back to eighteenth-century styles. It features the violin in a dominant role, especially in the finale’s cadenza, since it was initially played by one of Vienna’s prominent violinists. So is the role of the clarinet, which has a prominent part of the slow movement.

Throughout, there are nice dialogues between the strings and the woodwinds plus French horn. (This was rare in those times.) The theme of the minuet is taken from a piano sonata, op. 49, no. 2, which predates the septet despite its higher opus number. There is a remarkable cello solo in the scherzo and surprising chords in the finale.

Ryan Turner is certainly off to a stellar start with this series. Emmanuel Music fans can look forward to Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress on Saturday, April 16 at 7:30 p.m.

Larry Phillips studied music at Harvard, the Montreal Conservatory, and at New England Conservatory. In 1974 he was a prizewinner at the International Harpsichord Competition in Bruges, Belgium.

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