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Complete String Quartets Volume 8
String Quartet in B flat major, opus 130
Grosse Fuge, opus 133
Kodaly Quartet
Naxos 8.554593 (55.26 minutes)

The Kodaly Quartet's Beethoven odyssey continues with one of the late, 'Galitsin quartets and the ultimate test, the Grosse Fuge. Truth be told, the two go together, since the Grosse Fuge started life as the finale of the B flat Quartet, opus 130, before Beethoven's misgivings about its scale led to him replacing it with a shorter and more engaging movement. Therefore this is the appropriate coupling for this music, giving the high-principled listener the option of reverting to Beethoven's original, more ambitious concept.

As it is, Opus 130 remains a work with a performing time of some forty minutes, so one consideration has to be how well the players sustain the sense of wholeness, engage the attention. No problems on that front as far as the Kodaly Quartet is concerned. The music goes through its various phases with a sure focus, balances allow details to be heard, tempi are well chosen. Credit also to the Naxos recording (at the Phoenix Studio, Budapest) which sounds most natural, only lacking the last degree of brightness and intensity in climactic passages.

The same might also be said of the performance. The fast movements, most particularly the second movement Presto, could perhaps gain from an extra edge of rhythmic pointing, but this is a slight cavill, and the Kodaly Quartet probably don't feel the music that way. As for the Grosse Fuge, the technical difficulties are surmounted with a confidence which allows the attention to be drawn to the musical argument, and rightly so. There is great tension here, but above all a real sense of line. At the Naxos bargain price, whether you know the music or not, there is no need to hesitate. This is great music performed with great conviction.

Terry Barfoot

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