B&B's Top 5 Harmoniemusik CDs

by Emily Worthington and Robert Percival

Stuck for last-minute gift ideas? Give the gift of Harmoniemusik for Christmas! We've pulled together our personal top 5 CDs from some of the big names in Harmoniemusik. Being Boxwood & Brass, however, we've combined our favourite ensembles with a bit of a 'repertoire explorer': so, no Mozart serenades here (much though we love them), but plenty of new sounds for curious ears... 

And of course if you're looking for something extra, you could always check out our new CD on Resonus Classics...

#5 Albion Ensemble: Beethoven Music for Wind Ensemble

Beethoven arr. Various
Egmont Overture Op. 84
Symphony No. 1 in C major
Overture Op. 72 “Fidelio”
March Op. 72
Andante Cantabile from the  Quintet Op. 16 for Piano and Winds
Sonata Pathetique Op. 13
SOMM070 (2007)

The UK-based modern-instrument Albion Ensemble has been going since 1976. This, one of their more recent recordings, contains some of the most interesting early-19th-century harmoniemusik arrangements of Beethoven – including an anonymous re-working of the Sonata Pathetique, issued by Beethoven's own publisher, and Josef Triebensee's beautiful arrangement of the slow movement of Op. 16.


#4 Amphion Wind Octet: Triebensee – Music for Wind Octet

Joseph Triebensee (1772–1864)
Partita in Eb
Concertino for Hammerclavier, 2 Oboen, 2 Clarinetten, 2 Hörner, 2 Fagotte und Contrafagott
Partita in Bb
Pan Classics 10125 (2012)

Josef Triebensee was the principal oboist in the Viennese Hofkapelle during the early 19th century. His compositions, largely neglected, are incredibly rich and sophisticated, with masterful handling of the instruments. The Amphion Octet are a German period-instrument ensemble who have recorded a large and comprehensive catalogue of Harmoniemusik in the last 10 years or so, including both standard and less-known repertoire. This disc contains two of Triebensee's Partitas, alongside a charming Concertino for piano and winds and a fabulous Trauermarsch. It's partnered by another volume, featuring a fascinating selection of Triebensee's arrangements of works by Mozart, Haydn and Cherubini. 


#3 Nachtmusique: Bohemian Winds

Franz Krommer (1759–1831)
Partita in Eb
Trio for Two Clarinets and Viola
Partita in C minor
Variations on a Theme of Pleyel
Partita in Eb
Glossa GCD920604 (2000)

Eric Hoeprich's Nachtmusique are one of the longest-established period-instrument Harmonien, and this disc of music by Franz Krommer is a particular favourite of ours. Our #1 choice below is the best introduction to Krommer's well-known Partitas for 9-piece Harmonie, but this disc covers some smaller and more unusual repertoire. There are three virtuosic Partitas for sextet (clarinets, horns and bassoons), including the rustic 'Dudelsack' Partita, and a trio for two clarinets and viola. 


#2 Ensemble Zefiro: Mozart – En Harmonie

Mozart arr. Alfredo Bernardini
Excerpts from:
Le Nozze di Figaro
Don Giovanni
Cosí fan Tutte

Arcana A374 (2004)

We could have populate this entire list just with Zefiro recordings, because for us Zefiro are THE Harmonie. Their catalogue includes some fantastic recordings of the standard Harmonie repertoire, including fabulous recordings of Mozart's Serenade in Bb K.361 Gran Partita, and the Beethoven Octet Op. 103. But En Harmonie offers something slightly different. Opera arrangements are a big part of the harmoniemusik repertoire, but rather than recording the existing arrangements of Mozart's Da Ponte operas, director and oboist Alfredo Bernardini has created a new set with expanded instrumentation. The lineup is the same 13 instruments featured in the Gran Partita, and allows for more detailed and theatrical transcriptions that a 9-part harmonie. Being Zefiro, there is also wit, stylish ornamentation and improvisation, and even the odd sound-effect. Great fun all round. Originally issued as "Mozart – Arrangiamenti d’Opera", it's now been re-released on Arcana.


#1 Ensemble Philidor: 3 Partitas pour Octour a Vent

Franz Krommer (1759–1831)
Partita No. 73 in F Major (World Premiere Recording)
Partita Op. 57 in F Major
Partita Op. 79 in E-flat
Calliope 9264 (1999)

Bohemian composer Franz Krommer was Imperial Kapellmeister in Vienna during Beethoven's lifetime. Though he composed nine symphonies and countless string quartets, he's now best known for his harmoniemusik. One of the best recordings out there, French Ensemble Philidor bring three of Krommer's 9-part Partitas to life using a strictly historical instrumentarium (2-key oboes, 5-key clarinets) and incredibly stylish phrasing. There have been other recordings before and since of this repertoire, particularly Op. 57, but for us this is still the most satisfying. There's nothing to be said other than, buy it. 


That's our Top 5, but we there's one more thing we had to mention. Back in 1984, when the 'Early Music' pioneers were only just starting to dip their toes into the early-19th century, a bunch of crazy fearless Belgians calling themselves Octophorus decided the logical thing to do would be to record probably the hardest Harmonie-arrangement of the lot: Beethoven 7. It's quite a spectacle. We'll be talking quite a lot about this arrangement over the next few months as we're touring it, so if you want a taster of the full effect, check it out!

Those are our top 5. What are yours? Let us know by our Facebook or Twitter links below!