It might be hard to believe that the same composer who wrote such monumental and daunting works as the Fifth Symphony, the Hammerklavier piano sonata or the late string quartets also wrote such light and airy tunes like the duet for two flutes (WoO 26) featured in this 4-CD collection. Indeed, such light, galante music was written early in Beethoven's career in Bonn or his early years in Vienna (1794-1800) where he established himself as a serious new composer to watch. In fact, the wind Octet (Op. 103) was composed as "pleasant dinner music" for the Elector of Bonn who had a prized wind ensemble (high opus number but early work). But, after composing many of these delightful pieces, Beethoven never returned to them and focused on more substantial compositions for symphony, string trio and quartet and, of course, the latest, most fashionable instrument to arrive in Vienna - the pianoforte. The rest is history.
The influence of Mozart is clearly evident in these works for wind ensemble with their charm and untroubled qualities. Yet, with these well-crafted works, even the great Beethoven could not quite achieve the wonderous sonorities, transcendent sublimity and luminescent beauty of Mozart's wind serenades (such as #10 'Grand Partita'). But, Beethoven's early wind compositions clearly reveal a talented, young composer who could easily model the style and form of his peers (Haydn and Mozart) and produce music of universal appeal.
If you are looking for a complete set of Beethoven's early (divertimento) music for wind ensemble (wind only, no strings), then this is a fine set and reasonably priced. Both Penguin and Third Ear guides gave high ratings to this recommended set. Highlights would include the Sextet Op. 71 and the Octet Op. 103 along with Beethoven's most famous work of the era - the Septet Op. 20 (but here transcribed for wind ensemble). Other "fillers" include lovely duos and trios for bassoon, horn, oboe, clarinet or flute which are played with much love and care by the German Consortium Classicum. Not so special perhaps are the transcriptions to winds of the opera, Fidelio. Regardless, all of which make for ideal, non-intrusive music for quiet moments like dinner, entertaining or late night reading. After all, the purpose of such divertimento music was "pleasant background music." Overall, the playing is rich and attractively musical while the sound quality full and clear. While the box set is comprised of four, individual CD cases in one large, outer box (not space saving), one very nice bonus are the wonderfully detailed notes with each CD, covering the history and musical form - along with chronological timelines of each work's composition in the overall scheme. This set can be heartliy recommended for collectors wanting a complete set of Beethoven's wind music. 4.5 stars.