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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
String Quartet in G Major, Op. 18 No. 2 (1798/1800) [24:04]
String Quartet in D Major, Op. 18 No. 3 (1798/1800) [27:30]
Quatuor Mosaïques
rec. Grafenegg Scholss "Alte Reitschule," Austria, March 2005
NAÏVE E8902 [51:34] 
Experience Classicsonline

Early Beethoven is trickier than it looks. To play these works as if they were already, well, Beethoven in all his grandeur risks inflation and overkill. Yet,  for all the music's firm grounding in Classical structures and techniques, treating it in a finicky, quasi-Rococo manner clearly misses the mark as well.

These performances by the Quatuor Mosaïques, a "period" string quartet, find just the right balance. Gestures such as dotted rhythms are projected with a propulsive lightness that is very much in the Classical style - and, incidentally, keeps the leisurely Scherzos in motion. Meanwhile, the dark, solid ensemble sonority ensures a sense of weight and importance. 

Their approach definitely suits the G major quartet, with the second movement - a tripartite Adagio cantabile/Allegro/Tempo I sequence - alternating effectively between introspective gravitas and anxious forward currents. In this piece, unfortunately, intonation is a question. Not that the quartet has general tuning problems - they occupy the broad middle ground between the Alban Berg's or Tokyo's every-note-in-place and the Amadeus's or Guarneri's close-but-no-cigar - but it goes awry when faced with Beethoven's more adventurous modulation sequences. There's a particularly hairy one in the first movement, where the first violin - it's not clear which of the two players it is - rides conspicuously sharp throughout, compounding an already confused situation further. 

The D major is actually an altogether bigger-framed piece than its roughly contemporaneous predecessor, thus posing fewer interpretive quandaries. The Mosaïques players respond accordingly, filling it out with big, expansive tone - the Andante con moto blossoms most impressively - that points the way to later Beethoven; and there are no disabling problems with intonation here.

Clear yet alluringly warm sonics complement the performances nicely.

Stephen Francis Vasta



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