Comparison recordings of these quartets:
Guarneri Quartet [late 1960s ADD] RCA/BMG
Vegh Quartet [1952 monophonic AAD] Music
& Arts CD-1084
Hollywood String Quartet [1958 monophonic
ADD] Testament SBT 3082
Opus 130, Alban Berg Quartet, with Op
133 finale also. EMI CDC 7 47136-2
These last quartets
of Beethoven are among his very greatest
and most influential works, written
when he was stone deaf. They were rarely
performed during his life and even for
some time thereafter. It wasn’t until
Schoenberg’s exploration of atonality
that the full harmonic implications
of these magnificent works were significantly
When I first saw this
recording I assumed it was one of the
Chandos Historical series from the Soviet
Union, but, no, these are brand new
recordings by the venerable and still
active Borodin quartet. Only the cellist,
Valentin Berlinsky has been with the
group since the earliest days in the
1950s, and violinist Abramenkov is the
only other hold-over from the group’s
magnificent Haydn Seven Last Words
or their fine 1980s second recorded
traversal of the Shostakovich Quartets.
Aharonian and Naidin are new to my experience.
The good news is that the Borodin Quartet,
with half new personnel, is still everything
it ever was. This is the first complete
Beethoven cycle this group has ever
recorded, although they played Beethoven
quartets before, albeit rarely.
The Hollywood String
Quartet make these quartets sound so
beautiful, perhaps more beautiful than
they should sound. The (first) Vegh
performance on the other hand is possessed
of a raw, gripping, wiry energy. The
Guarneri play with wide dynamics, romance,
and passion. The Alban Berg quartet
achieve in No. 13 an awesome intellectual
monumentality which leads naturally
into the Grosse Fuge movement,
after which they play the 1826 finale
also, giving you, if you can last it
out, a seven movement version clocking
in at 52.18.
are very dramatic. Tragic sections become
sadly wistful. Lyric sections are very
lyric; the famous cavatina in
Op. 130 has never sung out so affectingly.
Intellectual passages are softened.
Ironic sections become playful; the
presto has never sounded so fleetingly
light. Vigorous sections become rollickingly
joyful. As in their Shostakovich cycle,
give these players something resembling
a peasant dance and, they really go
to town on Saturday night with it, and
as a result these performances are more
extroverted and optimistic than I’ve
ever heard. Throughout there is a sense
of close ensemble, an intense desire
to find and communicate joy in this
music which can in other hands sound
excessively — even monotonously — gloomy.
Perhaps this would not be so remarkable
in, for instance, the Op. 18 quartets.
Recorded sound is excellent, clear,
close and realistic.
The Borodiners consider
the fugue an integral part of a solo
performance of No. 13, not a separate
work. But, since it is not put on the
same disk, you can’t play No. 13 in
its originally conceived version if
you only own this disk; you must buy
the fugue separately on Chandos 10268
(which I’ve not heard) and then program
your CD changer to play the movements
in the proper sequence.
The Beethoven quartets
are so varied in mood and structure
that hearing a fine performance of these
two says little if anything about how
the other quartets would be played.
I hope very much to hear this whole
set soon, but, in the meantime, buy
the other volumes in this series at
your own risk.