Early Beethoven is trickier than it looks. To play these works
as if they were already, well, Beethoven in all his grandeur
risks inflation and overkill. Yet, for all the music's firm grounding
in Classical structures and techniques, treating it in a finicky,
quasi-Rococo manner clearly misses the mark as well.
These performances by the Quatuor Mosaïques, a "period" string
quartet, find just the right balance. Gestures such as dotted
rhythms are projected with a propulsive lightness that is
very much in the Classical style - and, incidentally, keeps
the leisurely Scherzos in motion. Meanwhile, the dark,
solid ensemble sonority ensures a sense of weight and importance.
Their approach definitely suits the G major quartet, with the second
movement - a tripartite Adagio cantabile/Allegro/Tempo
I sequence - alternating effectively between introspective
gravitas and anxious forward currents. In this piece,
unfortunately, intonation is a question. Not that the quartet
has general tuning problems - they occupy the broad middle
ground between the Alban Berg's or Tokyo's every-note-in-place
and the Amadeus's or Guarneri's close-but-no-cigar - but it
goes awry when faced with Beethoven's more adventurous modulation
sequences. There's a particularly hairy one in the first movement,
where the first violin - it's not clear which of the two players
it is - rides conspicuously sharp throughout, compounding
an already confused situation further.
The D major is actually an altogether bigger-framed piece than its
roughly contemporaneous predecessor, thus posing fewer interpretive
quandaries. The Mosaïques players respond accordingly, filling
it out with big, expansive tone - the Andante con moto
blossoms most impressively - that points the way to later
Beethoven; and there are no disabling problems with intonation
Clear yet alluringly warm sonics complement the performances nicely.
Stephen Francis Vasta