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Comeplete String Quartets / Quintets & Fragments
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Beethoven : Complete String Quartets, Quintets & Fragments
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The critically acclaimed ensemble, The Endellion String Quartet, celebrate their 30th anniversary with the release of a spectacular 10 CD Box Set of new recordings of Beethoven String Quartets and String Quintets, and all quartet and quintet fragments.
- Is Discontinued By Manufacturer : No
- Product Dimensions : 5.25 x 5 x 1.2 inches; 11.23 Ounces
- Manufacturer : Warner Classics
- Date First Available : November 14, 2008
- Label : Warner Classics
- ASIN : B001E99GQA
- Number of discs : 10
- Best Sellers Rank: #317,339 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Among these extremes, the Endellion Quartet steers a course of sane and human musicality. (They are the resident quartet of Cambridge University, and have played many complete Beethoven cycles.) This is NOT to say that the Endellions are precious, bland or understated--far from it. Not only do they give Beethoven's strength, aggression and wildness full rein, but also his delicacy and humor. They eschew interpretive extremes, avoiding manic caricatures of "Beethoven, the rabid rock star," such as are currently fashionable in some quarters. They understand that although Beethoven was a revolutionary, he accomplished his changes by gradually making them WITHIN the classical style--NOT by immediately and totally rejecting it. Throughout, one feels the Endellions altering their performing style to reflect the evolution of Beethoven's idiom--this is as it should be. This set deserves a place among the best available. It will certainly take its place beside my favorite sets: Cleveland I and Tokyo I.
So much recommends this new set, one hardly knows where to begin. Of course, there is the intensely expressive and technically accomplished playing of the Endellions themselves. Their instruments blend into an ensemble sound, yet each is clearly differentiated. Even the viola and cello have presence and definition. Each player knows how every one of his phrases fits into the larger picture--either foreground, accompaniment, sideline comment, etc.--attentive listeners will not miss hearing a single note. Tempi throughout seem absolutely right. Ensemble is always unanimous and immaculate. Tricky changes of pace are deftly managed with hair-trigger responses, yet they also know when and how to relax the tension. In effect, the Endellions have merged into a single sharply-honed instrument.
The recorded sound lets the performances speak for themselves. Despite being divided among several engineers and venues, the sound is remarkably consistent from quartet to quartet. Textures are transparent, yet the group is not too closely miked. There is always a pleasant feeling of air surrounding the performers, but the ambiance is not over-reverberant.
If I have any complaint--and I admit this is subjective--it is that the group sometimes makes the conscious choice to play with minimal (and sometimes NO) vibrato. This is effective in places like the opening of No.14 or the introduction to the finale of No.6, where it clarifies bizarre harmonies and creates an appropriate feeling of disorientation. It's very brave, but sometimes the first violin is, in such instances, a bit over-bright. Of course, the tone controls can mitigate this, and my ears quickly adjusted to their leaner sound. Others will disagree, of course, and this should not keep anyone from purchasing and enjoying this excellent set.
In the space of a review one can discuss in only the most general terms the many felicities of these performances: the combined elegance and effrontery of Op.18; the passion of the Razumovskys (their swiftness and "every-note-in-place" virtuosity in the bustling finale of No.9 yields to no one); the rapt inwardness of the late slow movements; the "who, me?" mock innocence of No.16; balanced voicing pointing the way through the thickets of the Grosse Fuge--everything is fully and clearly projected. Many quartets hurtle through the scherzo of No.6 without clarifying the alternations between three groups of two and two groups of three in a bar, being content to leave the listener mystified as to what the pulse actually is. The Endellions let us in on the rhythmic jokes with subtly changing accentuations, and yet are still fleet of foot. Until now, I've never heard the hemiolas of this movement made so clear. The same goes for the breathless off-beat panting in the scherzo of No.16, here clearly placed on the second beats--but then, this is typical of the entire set. We are included in the adventure--we are never "on the outside looking in."
Another plus is that the Endellion plays from the meticulously prepared new edition by Beethoven scholar Jonathan Del Mar. (His versions of the symphonies have already been recorded by several conductors. Hopefully, other quartets will take up Del Mar's gauntlet soon.) Barenreiter is gradually publishing his scores, but as of this date I think only Op.18 has made it into print. I have followed the quartets, at least, with the old Breitkopf score and detected no changes (glaring or otherwise) in bar-to-bar structure. However, throughout there are changed dynamics, phrasings and articulations, deriving from Del Mar's researches into Beethoven's manuscripts. There are probably subtle changes in the notes, too, but it's difficult to detect this sort of thing "on the fly." Particularly valuable is THE FIRST RECORDING OF THE ORIGINAL VERSION OF NO.1, which although recognizably based on the same material, is VERY different from the version we have come to know. The Endellion plays both, affording a fascinating glimpse into Beethoven's creative processes. Misha Donat's pithy notes briefly outline the main points of divergence between the two versions.
Besides the canonical 16 quartets, the set includes the composer's quartet transcription of his Piano Sonata No.9, and BOTH of the quintets. (The Quintet Op.4 is a complete rewrite of a quintet for winds with an entirely new second trio in the minuet.) Also included are all of the short works and fragments for quartet and quintet, played as Beethoven left them, with no attempts at "completion." No undiscovered masterpieces here, but they're all worth hearing.
The Endellion plays ALL the repeats, so not a scrap is missing--not even the repeats of the second parts of the first movements of Nos. 5, 6 and 8, which are usually not observed. This is especially important in the case of No.8, where the first and second endings are quite different.
RE REPEATS IN THE BEETHOVEN QUARTETS: ordinarily I regard comparing timings as an unreliable way to judge completeness of performances. However, since we are dealing here with such large structural divisions, I will cautiously state the following: if the first movements of Nos.5, 6 and 8 run about 9:00, 9:00 and 13:00 respectively, then one can pretty safely assume that the second half repeats are taken. This can give one at least some idea about the attitude of a quartet toward repeats, although of course, it doesn't ensure that ALL repeats are observed.
Not the least attraction of the Endellion set is Warner Classics' extraordinarily low price. But even without that inducement, this outrageously attractive box deserves one's serious consideration--highly and warmly recommended.
My favorite box of Beethoven Quartets is the Quartetto Italiano on Philips: Beethoven: Complete String Quartets
I also have a soft spot for the Budapest Quartet on Sony: Beethoven: String Quartets (I'm old)
Not to mention the Busch Quartet (really old)
Endellion is advertised as the first ever COMPLETE recording of Beethoven's String Quartets, Quintets and Fragments - A bold claim.
Blame it on my O.C.D, but I actually NEED to own everything Beethoven wrote. So I was looking forward to this.
Imagine my disappointment when it arrived and three works were missing.
Seventeen String Quartets and Four String Quintets were published during Beethoven's lifetime.
They have Opus numbers. That part should be easy, but the String Quintet in C Minor, Opus 104 is missing.
Opus 104, published in 1817, is an arrangement of Beethoven's Piano Trio Op.1, No.3
Herr Kaufmann (first name unknown) arranged it as a quintet, then showed the work to Beethoven, who made further changes of his own.
Beethoven presented the Quintet, Op.104 to the publisher Artaria as his own work, and accepted payment for it, which qualifies it as a genuine Beethoven String Quintet.
The chain of possession was Beethoven - Kaufmann - Beethoven.
Its omission from the Endellion "Complete" collection is inexcusable.
Since 1957, we have also known of the existence of seven unpublished String Quartets and one unpublished String Quintet.
In that year, Willy Hess published his catalog of unpublished Beethoven. *
Hess Catalog #H30-H36 are Quartets. H40 is a Quintet:
H30 Prelude & Fugue in F (1795)
H31 Prelude & Fugue in C (1795)
H32 First version of String Quartet in F, Op.18, No.1 (1799)
H33 Minuet in A flat (1792)
H34 String Quartet in F - arranged from the Piano Sonata Op.14, No.1 (1802)
H35 Fragmentary arrangement of J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, No. 24 (1817)
H36 Arrangement of the overture to Handel's Oratorio "Solomon" (1798)
H40 Prelude & Fugue for String Quintet in D minor - fragment (1817)
The scores of these works have been published for over fifty years. There is no excuse for omitting them from a COMPLETE String Quartet, Quintet and Fragments collection.
Endellion omits H35 and H36, in addition to the Quintet, Op.104.
The Endellion box is actually the third attempt to bring us the "complete" Beethoven String Quartets, Quintets and Fragments.
The first attempt was the Deutsche Gramophon Beethoven Edition (vol.11-14), issued on CD in 1997.
The second was the 85CD Brilliant Classics Beethoven Edition, issued in 2007.
Annoyingly, none of these collections were complete.
DG's Beethoven Edition omitted the Quartet H35 and the Quintets Op.4, Op.104 and H40. Brilliant Classics omitted Quartets H32, H35 and H36.
It is possible to assemble a "complete" collection of String Quartets and Quintets, but you will have to buy additional CDs. This will involve some duplication of material.
If you bought the Endellion box, you need to buy three additional CDs:
- H35 has been recorded only once, by the Covington Quartet on Monument Records: Beethoven: The Forgotten Works for String Quartet
This involves very little duplication: The CD is filled out by an hour's worth of fragments from Beethoven's sketchbook, which only came to light after Hess's catalog was published.
Two of these fragments are included in the Endellion box: an Allegretto in B Minor (38 seconds) and a Prelude in D Minor (39 seconds).
- H36 has been recorded three times, by the Ysaye Quartet: Beethoven: String Quintet - or - String Quintet/Rare Works
or the Hagen Quartet in the DG box (vol.11) Complete Beethoven Edition, Vol. 11: Early String Quartets
- or - The Quartetto Paolo Borciani: Frühe Streichquartette
- For Op.104, you might try the Fine Arts Quartet (+ one) on Naxos: String Quintets Op. 29 & Op. 1 - This quintet has been recorded several times; this is the least expensive way to get it.
Only then will you be the proud owner of all 24 String Quartets and 5 String Quintets by Ludwig van Beethoven.**
This confusion could all be avoided if some enterprising String Quartet or recording company would just issue a CD of Beethoven's String Quartets H30-H36 and the String Quintet H40.
The Quartetto Paolo Borciani came closest: they recorded H30-35, but forgot H36 and H40 - copy and paste in the Amazon Search Bar:
The Endellion box is a production of Cambridge University.
If Cambridge University had published The Complete Sonnets of Shakespeare and left out three, it would have been a major scandal.
Beethoven deserves the same consideration.
This would never have happened at Oxford.
* For more information about the Hess catalog, as well as the Kinsky catalog (WoO) and the Biamonti catalog, go to lvbeethoven.com
Click on the American Flag (if you speak American), then click "music".
** The Endellion Quartet is actually the easiest and cheapest way to do it.
The DG Beethoven Edition is out-of-print, and the Brilliant Classics box is big and messy.
- If you bought the Brilliant Classics 85CD box, you need Beethoven: The Forgotten Works for String Quartet for H35, plus either Complete Beethoven Edition, Vol. 11: Early String Quartets for H32 and H36 or the Endellion box for H32 and the Ysaye Quartet for H36 (this is the most expensive of your three options).
- If you bought the DG box (vol.11-14), you need ASIN:B000QUZDT2 "Beethoven: The Forgotten Works for String Quartet" (see the link in the previous paragraph) for H35, plus either the Endellion box or the Brilliant Classics box for H40 and Op.4, plus the Fine Arts Op. 104 on Naxos (also pretty expensive).
Top reviews from other countries
In Beethoven's quartets there are plenty of moments of technical pressure which can so easily lead to lapses in intonation. This is a crucial consideration as poor tuning in stringed instruments can be an excruciating experience whatever the virtues of the attempted interpretation. Many reputable quartets in the past have faltered in matters of tuning and this seriously compromises musical satisfaction. More recent quartets seem to have solved this important matter and this no doubt reflects more rigorous technical training at colleges etc.
Now we have this set by the Endellions and they pass all such judgements with considerable ease. Generally they take a brisk view of these works and make the most of the dynamic markings and tempi changes. As a result all the performances have a strong element of spontaneity and energetic 'life' about them that is most engaging. They remind me of remarks made in the Gramophone years ago about Wilhelm Kempff's piano sonatas (either set-mono or stereo) which seem to allow Beethoven to speak directly to the listener without an interpreter getting in the way. This is how these quartets seem to communicate too.
I have listened to these performances a number of times and at no point have I regretted limiting myself to just this one set of performances having passed on previous sets to various friends. They are all very well recorded with bright, clear and forward sound and also advantageously priced.
I would suggest that these would warrant serious consideration on any short-list of an 'only' buy as well as being a really worthwhile alternative second purchase to consider.
My separate review of the quintet disc is pasted below for further reference:
These quintets are far more rarely performed than the string quartets. Nevertheless they remain an enjoyable experience and are well worth collecting. This disc completes the box set of the quartets and continues the very high standards of those quartet performances. This disc is available separately as here.
The opus 4 quintet is really an arrangement of Beethoven's wind octet. That octet, although and early work, is listed as opus 103 and it in the octet version that most purchasers will recognise the work. This quintet version is thoroughly enjoyable in its own right and I would suggest that owning each is both interesting and satisfying. The opus 29 quintet is not an arrangement and is sometimes available on disc but without the opus 4. The fragments are really fragments and are interesting only for the sake of completeness.
The performances here have all the same qualities of the quartet discs. Speeds are generally lively without being extreme. Accents are fully observed and this underlines the energy of the performances. There is a pervading sense of enthusiasm and the intonation is spot-on.
The recording quality is faithful and well-balanced.
I would suggest that this excellent disc should be on the short-list of anyone interested in the program. Even better, I would suggest that the whole box set of the complete quartets and quintets is an even tastier proposition.