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It was the E flat quartet, Woo 36 No 1, however, which, from the first notes in (unusually) E flat minor, came across as the deeper and more serious work, and with which there seemed more connection with the later and generally more familiar Beethoven. The opening Adagio assai has the lion's share of the work's intensity, with (generally) piano leads echoed by the strings, but notable for the personality in the writing for each of the instruments. Here, in embryonic form, were the famous four-note 'fate knocking' rhythm from the Fifth Symphony, and early signs of the mature composer's chromaticism. And from here too Beethoven took and reused material for the Piano Sonata Op 2 No 1 and the Piano Trio Op 1 No 3.

A central Allegro con spirito, played excitingly fast, with an energetic and memorable theme, ended softly, and finally a theme (taken at a gentle pace) with six variations, featured each of these skilled performers in turn -- piano (Malcolm Miller) with pizzicato strings, then solos for each of violin (Galina Tanney), viola (Julian Saxl), cello (Grace Chen), a dramatic minor key variation and then a light, arpeggiated variation for (mostly) piano. Finally the theme again, in the violin, then a virtuosic coda with a gentle ending.

Left to right: Grace Chen, Galina Tanney, Julian Saxl and Malcolm Miller, at St James's Church, Piccadilly. Photo © 2003 Keith Bramich
Left to right: Grace Chen, Galina Tanney, Julian Saxl and Malcolm Miller, at St James's Church, Piccadilly. Photo © 2003 Keith Bramich

'Beethoven you've done well' said Christian Gottlob Neefe in Bonn in 1785, conjured up for the St James audience by Malcolm Miller in his pre-concert talk. Neefe must surely have had some idea of what lay ahead during the next forty years or so for his fourteen-year-old student composer, and he persuaded Beethoven not to publish these fascinating early quartets.

Copyright © 9 September 2003 Keith Bramich, Gloucestershire, UK

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MALCOLM MILLER WRITES ABOUT THE 'MISSA SOLEMNIS'

MALCOLM MILLER AT THE REGENT HALL SUMMER FESTIVAL

A LUNCHTIME CONCERT WITH A DIFFERENCE IN TOKYO

THE BEETHOVEN PIANO SOCIETY OF EUROPE

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