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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Beethoven, Piano Concertos Nos. 3 & 4, Transcriptions for Piano and String Quartet, Hanna Shybayeva, Utrecht String Quartet, Luis Cabrera

Beethoven's Piano Concertos Nos. 3 & 4 have long been some of my favorites in the literature. There is so much going on thematically. So I was glad to discover that there were 19th century transcriptions of the works by one Vinzenz Lachner for piano, string quartet and double bass (Naxos 8.551400). The new Naxos recording of these pairings-down features to good results pianist Hanna Shybayeva, the Utrecht String Quartet and double bassist Luis Cabrera.

There quite naturally is a shift in sensibility from the dramatic splendor of piano and orchestra to the intimacy of piano and string quartet-quintet, that perhaps the more expressively lyrical moments come out more personalized as it were and the sublime forte tuttis have a bit less thickness and color and a bit more sonic simplicity and directness.

That of course does not mean these versions are to replace the orchestral ones for good and all. But they do give you a chance to hear the music in a different light, to pick up on things that you might not have before, or at least not in this way. So you can later go back to the orchestral versions and hear then with fresh ears perhaps. A good transcription can re-situate things in that way I think.

The performances are very good with Ms. Shybayeva sounding grand and impassioned on the piano, the Utrecht String Quartet and Maestro Cabrera sounding full and regal, detailed yet paired down as you would expect. It takes a bit of getting used to this instrumentation but after a few listens it starts to fit right in with the Piano Trios and etc. as true chamber music, at least as long as we listen to this version. With the reduction of strings too comes the sort of brio that only a smaller ensemble tends to realize, that in the relevant tutti passages. So that is another aspect that makes this an attractive offering.

It is a rewarding and even fun recording. It is of course not made to replace your favorite orchestral version(s) but as a welcome palate cleanser. For that I recommend this one.

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