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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Complete String Quartets

String Quartet No. 1 in F Op. 18 No. 1 (1798-1800)
String Quartet No. 2 in G Op. 18 No. 2 (1798-1800)
BOHEME CDBMR 009155 [56.26]
String Quartet No. 3 in D Op. 18 No. 3 (1798-1800)
String Quartet No. 4 in C minor Op. 18 No. 4 (1798-1800)
BOHEME CDBMR 009156 [49.53]
String Quartet No. 5 in A Op. 18 No. 5 (1798-1800)
String Quartet No. 6 in B flat Op. 18 No. 6 (1798-1800)
BOHEME CDBMR 009157 [54.01]
String Quartet No. 7 in F Razumovsky Op. 59 No. 1 (1805-06)
String Quartet No. 10 in E flat Harp Op. 74 (1809)
BOHEME CDBMR 009158 [73.42]
String Quartet No. 8 in E minor Razumovsky Op 59. No. 2 (1805-06)
String Quartet No. 9 in C Razumovsky Op. 59 No. 3 (1805-06)
BOHEME CDBMR 009159 [72.59]
String Quartet No. 11 in F minor Serioso Op. 95 (1810)
String Quartet No. 12 in E flat Op. 127 (1823-24)
BOHEME CDBMR 009160 [59.32]
String Quartet No. 13 in B flat Op. 130 (1825-26)
Grosse Fuge in B flat Op. 133 (1825-26)
BOHEME CDBMR 009161 [53.18]
String Quartet No. 14 in C sharp minor Op. 131 (1826)
String Quartet No. 16 in F Op. 135 (1826)
BOHEME CDBMR 009162 [60.43]
String Quartet No. 15 in A minor Op. 132 (1825)
Sextet for two French horns and string quartet in E flat Op. 81b (? 1795)
BOHEME CDBMR 009163 [61.15]
Taneyev Quartet
Vitali Buyanovsky and Vladimir Shalty (French horns)
Recorded 1971 (Sextet) and between 1981 and 1988 in the St Petersburg Recording Studio
BOHEME CDBMR 009155-009163 (as noted above, all available singly)

Heroes of the Miaskovsky discography (see my long essay on their recordings of the quartets elsewhere on this site) the Taneyev Quartet has been equally devoted to Shostakovich, all of whose quartets they recorded and of whose last quartet they gave the premiere. They have also exhaustively investigated the chamber works of the composer whose name they took, as well as recording all Schubertís quartets and those under discussion here, those by Beethoven. So, a word about the Taneyev Quartet. Founded in 1946 whilst they were students at the Leningrad Conservatory they were until 1963 known as the Quartet of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, in whose ranks they all played. The original line-up was Vladimir Ovcharek and Grigory Lutsky, violins, Vassarion Soloviev, viola and Benjamin Morozov, cello. Ovcharek alone remains from the original 1946 quartet, an indomitable embodiment of style, whilst Alexander Stang is now second violin, having replaced Lutsky in 1984 and Vladimir Stopichev has taken over the viola chair. Joseph Levinzon had taken over the cellist position way back in 1967.

The Beethoven quartets are contained in nine single CDs, all available singly, and were recorded in St Petersburg during the course of the 1980s Ė a makeweight Sextet for horns and quartet was recorded in 1971.

Of the Op. 18 set they bring out the Haydnesque charm of the opening of the quartet in F but donít press the contrasts. They establish the musical aesthetic that remains consistent throughout the set; well equalized tonally, quite serious, spacious, often in fact slow, without great tonal effulgence Ė clean and patrician playing. They see in the slow movement I think an embryonic taste of the later Beethoven because they vest it with an extremely slow tempo and stress the occasional harmonic strangeness that stalks it. Though the Scherzo is marked Allegro molto it really isnít up to tempo in the Taneyevís hands. The second of the set stresses the stately formality but takes the Adagio cantabile at a more flowing tempo (as they generally due when confronted by a cantabile instruction). They are good at bringing out the multi-faceted humour of the first movement of Op. 18/4 but remain aristocratic in phrasing and deign glutinous displays of tonal exaggeration. They far prefer to bring out all the rococo elegance of the Scherzo. Highlights of the third disc are the bright opening of No. 5 and its well-phrased Andante cantabile in which the theme and variations flow fluidly. Only their view of the finale mars the performance for me Ė very strangely becalmed and unanimated. The last of the Op. 18 set has a fine slow movement and in the Maliconia section of the finale the Taneyev play with a kind of rapt dispassion.

Their quite lean and considered approach is maintained in the Razumovsky Quartets. The first sees Ovcharek cannily vary his expressive shading in the slow movement but clearly these Russians know something others donít about the Theme Russe finale because itís exceptionally devitalised. I liked the resinous exchanges between the fiddles in the opening movement of Op. 59/2 whilst their slow movement is one of the slower ones on record. It is well sustained though and interior though not as moving as, say, the Budapest (my favourite happens to be their late, 1960 recording). The Taneyevís Prestos tend to be of a piece; genial, clear, generally slower and more considered than their rivals and so it is here. Their approach, structurally at least, in the slow movement of Op. 59/3 reminds of the 1952 Vegh traversal but the Minuet is forceful and brisk and not at all grazioso as marked. They start the fugal passage of the finale well enough but they do tend to play safe with the tempo and whilst their dynamic range is reasonable it is sometimes flattened out by the recording level.

Op. 74ís slow movement has a songful momentum with some excellent work from violist Stopichev but whilst Op. 95 has some well judged tempi the contrastive material of the Allegro con brio tends to be stretched out too much. There is tremendous clarity and concentration in these performances if sometimes a certain detachment, as evidenced in the drawn out Adagio of Op. 127. The Taneyev remain stoic, with a jovial middle section, and generally clear-eyed. This extends to the Scherzo which is quite heavy and slow. I have broadly similar things to say about the companion last quartets. In Op. 130 they tend to be businesslike in the passagework of the opening movement and whilst they take an affectionate look at the Alla danza tedesca they see the following Cavatina more in terms of the earlier movement Ė itís less complexly moving as a result. They include a good performance of the Grosse fugue as a separately tracked item at the end of the work so one could programme it in place of the finale if one wished. The opening of Op. 131 is expressive without exaggeration - another constant of these performances Ė and much here is convincing. I did baulk at the slack Presto (Movement 5) however. They catch the wildness of the vivace second movement of Op. 135 and are moving in a patrician way in the grave introduction to the finale. Op. 132 receives a fine all-round performance. The slow movement is almost as slow as the Léner Quartetís 1930s traversal, which is saying something, but they lack the extraordinarily moving charge that the older players managed to impart Ė still one of the best accounts on record. Otherwise the Taneyev take a balanced and sane view of the music.

The sound is not too over-expansive though sometimes it can expand just a touch too much for clarity of articulation. In the main though itís warm and fine. I enjoyed listening to the Taneyev Quartet. Instrumentally they are gifted, intellectually they are properly engaged; their slow movements and slow tempi generally point to profundity and elevation of expression. In the end though I found myself relatively unmoved by them, finding them rather too often devitalised and somewhat aloof.

Jonathan Woolf


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