Count is the link between Beethoven and Russians

Pic of Tim Horton
Pic of Tim Horton

BEETHOVEN meets Russia over three concerts this Friday and Saturday to launch Music in the Round’s spring series of concerts at the Crucible Studio before the season comes to a halt until March 2.

Friday is welcome back Elias String Quartet day, when they give a 50-minute Schools Concert in the morning and play Beethoven and Bartók in the evening.

Cellist Gemma Rosefield

Cellist Gemma Rosefield

However, most of the meat is on Saturday when, taking Beethoven’s use of Russian folk tunes in the ‘Razumovsky’ quartets as their cue, Ensemble 360 give two concerts of Russian music and Beethoven.

Count Andreas Razumovsky, an enormously wealthy chap, was the Russian ambassador in Vienna and commissioned the three quartets (Op 59) that carry his name from Beethoven in 1806.

“Other than the Razumovsky link, there’s no particular connection between Beethoven and Russia,” admits Ensemble 360 pianist Tim Horton.

“We haven’t done much Russian music, so it seemed a nice idea to do programme some with Beethoven.”

Two early Beethoven works to be precise, with his Op 1 No 1 piano trio at the lunchtime concert along with Stravinsky’s suite from The Soldier’s Tale for clarinet, violin and piano, and Tchaikovsky’s Sérénade Mélancolique from Tim, Ben Nabarro, Matt Hunt and new cellist Gemma Rosefield.

Although the numbering suggests the trio was Beethoven’s first published work, it wasn’t, with pride of place going to his Dressler Variations for piano WoO 63.

Tim enthuses: “Ben and I adore Op 1 No 1; we’ve played it together many times. We can’t play it enough times!

“It’s such an extraordinary piece, a statement of Beethoven’s musical intent, really.”

The Stravinsky suite derives from his somewhat surreal theatrical piece L’Histoire du Soldat (1918), about a soldier who exchanges his violin with the devil for a book which makes him very rich.

A year later he cobbled a nine-movement concert suite of music from the work using the original orchestration and shortly afterwards arranged the five-movement suite from it that is heard on Saturday, Tango-Valse-Rag, Danse du Diable, and all.

“It’s a wonderful arrangement,” says Tim.

“I’ve done it in various places with Matt before and he’s played it with Ben quite a lot.”

Tchaikovsky’s ‘melancholic serenade’ is an andante, usually encountered in its violin and orchestra version, but here is heard in the composer’s violin and piano arrangement.

In his biography on the composer, Edward Garden, former head of music at Sheffield University, suggests it may have originated from a sketch for a violin concerto, coming as it did just after his First Piano Concerto – it’s in the same key, B minor.

Saturday evening’s concert begins with more Stravinsky, his three-movement Septet for clarinet, horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello and piano, penned in 1953.

Tim says: “The Septet is a real rarity. I knew that it existed but I didn’t know it. It was one of the very last neo-classical pieces he wrote before he started writing 12-note music and is great fun.”

The second Beethoven work follows, the composer’s arrangement of his piano/wind quintet Op 16 for piano quartet – the first time Tim has performed it, whereas he has been involved in the former many times. Likewise, Rachmaninov’s Trio Élégiaque No 2 in D minor Op 9, which ends the concert.

He says: “It’s one of those major pieces I’ve never actually played. I’ve played the smaller one in G minor but this one is 45-minute monster.”

Rachmaninov wrote it in 1893 as homage following the death of his idol Tchaikovsky and the work follows a similar pattern and structure to the latter’s A minor piano trio without being too closely modelled on it.

“There are definite parallels,” says Tim before getting a little rueful.

“I love Rachmaninov but he wrote so much solo music for piano that I can’t really play; my hands are too small!

“I think I could play it but I’d have to do a lot of cheating!”