Schubert sonatas

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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
String Quartet in D major Op.18 No.3 (1798-1800) [21.64]
String Quartet in F minor Op.95 (1810) [21.39]
The Griller Quartet
Recorded in West Hampstead, London, 1948
DUTTON CDBP 9752 [44.06]

Dutton has been remastering a number of the Griller Quartet’s Decca recordings of late. Their Haydn and Mozart are exemplary and can be found on CDBP9702, 9717 and 9739 whilst the Bloch and Dvořák disc has long had a place on my shelves. The Grillers were, alongside the London, their illustrious predecessors as the country’s leading Quartet, among the finest Beethoven interpreters of their time.

This latest disc collates one of the Op.18 set with Op.95 in performances that demonstrate energy, dynamism and timbral sensitivity in equal measure. They catch the rough-hewn surface of the opening Allegro of the D major and whilst they also explore its corollary, a refined lightness, they certainly don’t stint the cragginess. Observant of the qualifying con moto indication they take the slow movement at a good, forwardly moving tempo. It’s quite an extrovert reading but also has plenty of expression; the inner part writing comes up very well. They take care of accenting and matters of dynamics in the third movement as well – these are sharply etched and marvellously calibrated.

The F minor was recorded seven months later but strangely it has a slightly less open sound. In the difficult opening Allegro the Grillers manage to catch its variousness of mood. The old Record Guide was none too pleased by the Griller Beethoven recordings, calling this one in particular "weak in conception" and preferring to dig out the Busch and the Léner pre-War recordings. I’ve no quarrel with that – they happen to be among my reference recordings for any Beethoven Quartet – but the editors of that particular volume seriously misjudged the Grillers. The second movement of Op.95 sports a fugato of intensely withdrawn delicacy and in the third movement they catch precisely what Beethoven asks for – as fast as possible ma serioso, an injunction carried out to the letter. Crisp bowing illuminates the finale, with leader Sidney Griller on especially dashing form, as well as a pervasive sense of agitation and unsettled motion.

Dutton has dampened down the Decca shellac crackle so that these are very listenable transfers indeed. I had a few uncomfortable moments in the second movement of Op.18 No.3 when the noise suppression proved rather intrusive. Otherwise you will find these very acceptable. The timing is short – which will be reflected in the price.

Jonathan Woolf



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