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Beethoven: Complete String Quartets 6
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Beethoven: Complete String Quartets, Vol. 6
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Early and late with Beethoven this always implies developing questions and expanding compositional ideas. In the case of the works recorded here, the A major Quartet from the Op. 18 set and the B-flat major Quartet, Op. 130, the focus is on folk music and its integration into art music: a recurring, central subject for the composers of Viennese Classicism which also guaranteed general accessibility to their music. The variations on a simple theme in the Andante of the Quartet Op. 18 No. 5 represent such a case of looking towards popular music, as also does the Alla danza tedesca from the late Quartet Op. 130, where the rhythm and character of the good old German dance is alienated to such an extent that it seems to appear as a damaged recollection, more than as an actual dance. In all other aspects, however, the styles of these two string quartets could not be more different. Who would not remember the enthusiasm created by his first symphonies, his sonatas, his quartets, a contemporary wrote not long after Beethovens death. All music lovers were delighted to find, so soon after Mozarts death, a man emerge who promised to replace the sorely missed. But alas, albeit gradually, though increasingly, he departed from his initial path, insisted on cutting a new one, and finally went astray. This going astray is today considered the most fascinating late oeuvre in musical history, to be experienced here in passionate and painstaking interpretations by the Quartetto di Cremona as part of their recording of the complete Beethoven Quartets.
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The A major string quartet, opus 18 no. 5, may have been written with Mozart's A major quartet, D. 464, in mind. The works share some external features, and Beethoven may have viewed Mozart's work as a challenge to be equaled. Beethoven's quartet is for the most part rollicking and rambunctious more than elegant. It features spirited themes in the first, second, and fourth movements. The finale is particularly lively with a contrasting quiet close. The third movement consists of a slow theme and a set of five variations which reminded me of the opening theme and variation movement of Beethoven's piano sonata, op 26, written shortly thereafter. The ensemble playing in this performance is close while allowing for many soaring solos from the first violin. The Quartetto offers a delightful, joyful performance of this quartet from what Lewis Lockwood has called Beethoven's First Maturity.
The quartet in B-flat major, op. 130, is a complex masterpiece from Beethoven's Third Maturity. This quartet is in six integrated but highly contrasting movements. It begins with a lengthy serious movement with many sudden shifts in tempo and theme. It is followed by a rapid-fire scherzo of about two minutes in length. The next three movements have some of the most beautiful and lyrical music Beethoven composed. The first two of these are dancelike while the fifth movement, the Cavatina, is tragic, personal, and deeply heartfelt. The Quartetto Di Cremona performs in a spontaneous, lyrical style which makes this sometimes forbidding music endearingly beautiful.
Beethoven wrote two finales for op. 130. The first was the "Great Fugue" which emphasizes the difficult, severe nature of the work while the second, Beethoven's last completed work, emphasizes the singing, playful qualities of the piece. Listeners and performers have long debated the merits of the two alternative movements. The Great Fugue frequently is played as a stand-alone piece, op 133, and that is the practice in this cycle. The Quartetto Di Cremona concludes with the shorter, lighter finale, which harks back to the gaiety and lightness and shifts of tone in the five earlier movements rather than to their difficulty. The finale and the entire quartet have a beautiful feel of seriousness through laughter. The reading is one that even a newcomer to the world of Beethoven's late quartets would love.
In a review for the Scotland Hearald, critic Michael Tumelty, wrote that with this CD " the Quartetto di Cremona’s magnificent survey of Beethoven’s complete String Quartets moves securely and unquestionably into mastery." Tumelty further wrote of the op. 130 reading: "The great B flat Quartet opus 130, with its rollickingly-benign alternative finale, is pure aural and intellectual magic with the flawlessly-judged pacing adopted by the group: the finale is wonderfully cathartic following the gently-aching humanity of the Cavatina: such warm playing; such perfection on a silver disc; what a glory this is."
I loved these lyrical, soulful readings of two great Beethoven quartets, early and late. The recording is on the Audite label and distributed by Naxos. Naxos kindly sent me a review copy.
Total Time: 70:44
Top international reviews
No track info on the discs though, bloody shame