The Kodály Quartet reach towards the end of their Beethoven cycle with two of the great 'late' quartets: Opus 131 and 135. Here, as in previous issues in the cycle, the performances give much pleasure, with good playing and nicely balanced recorded sound.
The C sharp minor Quartet, Opus 131, is one of Beethoven's most revolutionary and searching compositions, a sequence of seven linked movements lasting a full forty minutes. But such statistics are a little misleading, since some of the movements - the fourth movement theme and variations for example (at nearly 14 minutes) - are extended structures, while others, like the third movement (at less than a minute), are little more than transitions.
While the Kodály Quartet perform the music with complete conviction, comparison with the best of their competitors, such as the Vegh Quartet (in the same coupling, on Auvidis Valois V4408) or the Talich Quartet (Calliope CAL9638) shows that their performance does not have quite the same compelling sweep and vision. The interpretation might not have sought such intensity, of course, but in this company it seems somewhat generalised: rhythms are not so keen edged, inward contemplations not quite so deeply considered. There is much to compensate the listener, however, particularly in terms of architectural shape and line, and these strengths should not be underestimated in this demanding music.
The performance of Opus 135 is very good. The balance between contemplation and momentum is well projected, and rarely can the slow movement, which inspired Mahler in the finale of his Third Symphony, have sounded so eloquent. This is an altogether more classically proportioned piece, and that basic shape with four balanced movement finds the Kodály Quartet very much at home. So at the bargain Naxos price these pleasing performances offer excellent value.