A Beethoven a Day: Finally, some fourplay

Welcome to the 13th work within the Slipped Disc/Idagio Beethoven Version


String quartets opus 18/1-6

A brand new century had simply begun when Beethoven made his first utterances within the format that Haydn invented. It’s virtually as if he waited till  the 19th centyr had dawned and he was 30 years previous, realizing he might do one thing so totally different that it will by no means be mistaken for the work of every other composer, or of the classical previous. The six quartets that make up his first set have been written for his pal, the violinist Karl Amenda, whose employer Prince Lobkowitz might afford to pay for them.

The daring opening assertion of the primary quartet, performed by all 4 devices collectively collectively and with out concord, is a transparent breach with the ingratiating intros of Haydn and Mozart. Beethoven is saying ‘pay attention up’, and we do. Every instrument then has its personal riff on the composer’s assertion. It sounds virtually like free speech, which can not have been misplaced on the Prince and his family within the fragile social environment of 1800.

The sluggish motion of the primary quartet makes reference to the vault scene in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. As soon as once more, Beethoven is staking his floor as a composer who covers the entire of civilisation. The music is rapturous, and it by no means appears to be like again. Throughout six quartets, it simply grows and grows (though the finale comprises a self-quote from Beethoven’s string trio, opus 9).

In my listening, I’ve tended to rule out ensembles just like the Amadeus Quartet who prefer to root Beethoven within the classical previous and veer extra in direction of those that see him as sui generis. Adolf Busch and members of his household, recorded at Abbey Highway in 1933, are overwhelmingly convincing within the first quartet.

The Vienna concertmaster Walter Barylli and his 1953 quartet are exhilarating within the final.

Betwixt and between, there may be an abundance of selection. The Budapest String Quartet (1952) and the Nice Arts (1966) show a breezy can-do perspective in direction of the set which is engrossing as you pay attention, much less enduring when it’s over.

The Guarneri and the Emerson prolong this perspective into one thing of an American Beethoven custom, and no worse for that.

Many swear by Peter Oundjian and the Tokyo Quartet within the gripping Malinconia of the closing quartet, a transparent anticipation of the subsequent interval in Beethoven’s life, the Eroica years.

The Alban Berg Quartet are so completed they make you overlook how tough these quartets are to play, not to mention play effectively. For a extra human, introspective contact, go to the Belcea Quartet.

My pal Tim Web page writes: I’m very keen on the Yale Quartet set of the late Quartets.  It got here out on Vanguard some 50 years in the past and has one thing of a cult about it.     It makes palpable sense of the music whereas by no means turning into prosaic.   I’m additionally very keen on the Hollywood String Quartet model.    For an entire set I’d go along with the Alban Berg, the EMI recording.    The early Budapest give an understanding of why they have been so revered of their time.   The Capet is fantastic in 132 as I recall.

The Israeli psychoanalyst and Haaretz music critic Amir Mandel casts his vote for the Vegh Quartet (with absolutely essentially the most evocative cowl ever to embellish a string set).


The violinist Gidon Kremer opts unexpectedly for the Quartetto Italiano – and you’ll shortly perceive why They play like Pavarotti sings, with none signal of effort.

Such selection on the market. Get listening.



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