Aureole etc.




Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line




Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


REVIEW

Some items
to consider


New App by the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra for iOS and Android!

Schumann Symphonies Rattle


Complete Brahms
Bargain price

 


Buy through MusicWeb for £17.10/17.85/18.80

NEW PRICE £16 postage paid World-Wide.

 

Musicweb Purchase button

 

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Late String Quartets

CD 1
String Quartet in E flat Op.127 [35:54]
String Quartet in C# minor Op.131 [38:48]
CD 2
String Quartet in B flat Op.130 (with Grosse Fuge Op.133 as the finale) [46:49]
CD 3
String Quartet in A minor Op.132 [45:29]
String Quartet in F Op.135 [24:59]
Wihan Quartet
rec. Convent of St. Agnes, Prague, 6 December and 8 November 2007 (CD 1), 13 March 2008 (CD 2), 17 January and 7 February 2008 (CD 3). DDD
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI6100-2 [3 CDs: 74:45 + 46:49 + 70:32]

Experience Classicsonline

 


 

When I was a teenager I had a friend who, unlike me, hated the perfection of studio recordings and was busy amassing recordings of live performances off the radio whilst I was collecting tapes. In those days (mid-1970s), almost everything issued was recorded in the studio but life has changed and now live performances on disc abound, some untouched, others patched up afterwards. Having said that, I suspect that this trend has impacted much less on the string quartet than, say, orchestral music. There are many recordings available which compete with this new set but I am struggling to find one that was recorded live, as this one was.  Apparently it was part of the first complete cycle of Beethoven quartets to be given in the Convent of St. Agnes. The rest of the cycle will follow on disc soon. Applause is retained and I suspect that these recordings are untouched so, if you’re out there Kevin …

This issue also represents something of a departure for Nimbus, it not being a recording that they made themselves (see press release). This is another growing trend in the industry and one that I feel that listeners should welcome since it can be seen as an attempt to defy the commercial argument against making some recordings.

There is no need to say much about the music itself since I would assume that most readers know that these are Beethoven’s last works, written between 1824 and 1826 when he was completely deaf. They pushed back the boundaries of both structure and harmony, having a profound but rarely specific influence on music written thereafter. All Beethoven’s quartets are essential listening but I put these works on several times compared to each time I play the Op.18 series. The serious collector should have multiple versions for it is completely unthinkable to claim that there is one top choice in this repertoire.

In terms of comparisons, my benchmarks are the earlier versions made by the Lindsay Quartet for ASV and the Talich Quartet on Calliope, both recorded about 25-30 years ago. They complement each other perfectly, the former being personal and intense, the latter intimate and slightly understated. The Lindsays are rarely comfortable to listen to in these works – it is hardly comfortable music – and I have a special memory of hearing them play Op.130 in Sheffield in 1984. In those days it was relatively unusual to hear it with the Grosse Fuge as the finale – another thing that has changed. Afterwards the audience piled out of the Crucible studio drained and many of them, including me, bought their recording of it on the spot. In this new set the Wihans opt for the same approach: Beethoven’s first thoughts and, unlike most studio versions, there is no alternative finale option.

The Wihan Quartet is an impressive group and, having reviewed their discs of Smetana and Wolf in 2006, I had high expectations of this set. For the most part, they were met although there are reservations too. These are technically highly assured performances which communicate Beethoven’s vision well and sit somewhere in the general interpretative spectrum between the Lindsay and the Talich. Most of my reservations probably relate to the recording which tends to be a bit close and rarely allows for real pianissimo. In Op.127 only there is a lot of extraneous noise, possibly due a squeaky chair and several loud coughs in slow movement. Quite loud intakes of breath abound and often these seem to be cues so I presume they come from the leader.

The first disc opens with Op.127 and, aside from the distractions already mentioned, I don’t find this as persuasive as the Lindsays, particularly in the first two movements. The first movement marking Maestoso is unusual in a string quartet and the Lindsays really project that. The extended adagio which follows has insufficient dynamic contrasts and certainly fails to finish at pianissimo. The Zemlinsky Quartet’s performance at the Banff international string quartet competition in 2007 which won them second prize will linger longer in my memory than this.

Thereafter things improve considerably. Op.131 follows – an amazing seven-movement work played almost continuously – this is better recorded and highly coherent over its broad arch. Again, I was fortunate enough to hear a superb live performance of this work in Banff about eighteen months ago which won the Tinally Quartet first prize. But the Wihans get to the heart of the matter too and the concentration involved in performing this live shines through. Particularly enjoyable are the lilt they bring to the second movement and the way the central set of variations is held together.

On the second disc comes Op.130 and this is another impressive reading. The second movement Presto goes well at full tilt and the alla tedesca is lovely. I am less sure about the Cavatina – one of Beethoven’s greatest slow movements, where the tempo seems just a little fast for adagio. It is certainly expressive enough but the Lindsays take two minutes more and make it count. There is tremendous attack in the Gross Fuge and the wildness of the landscape is amply conveyed.

The A minor quartet, Op.132 represents the pinnacle in this set. A reading of great breadth and concentration, this performance hangs together seamlessly across a great span. The opening section of the otherworldly central adagio is taken daringly slowly and perfectly balanced against the ensuing andante.

Finally, we come to Op.135, a smaller, structurally more conventional work but a highly challenging one too. The Wihans give a creditable performance but the rather restricted dynamic range is a particular drawback here, because contrasts are so important. In the slow movement, the Lindsays again adopt a slower tempo to great effect and they also bring more anguish to the outbursts at the beginning of the finale.

The issue is well-documented with an excellent essay on the music by Misha Donat.

To conclude full circle, apart from the Kevins of this world, who is this set for? Not those who want perfection certainly but as a complement to one or more studio versions of these life-enhancing works, this deserves consideration. There’s no doubt in my mind that experiencing these works performed live by a top quartet is one of the great musical experiences. How well they transfer to the living room will be a matter of personal taste. To assess that, it should be well worth investigating this modestly priced set.

Patrick C Waller

 

 

 

 

 

 


Gerard Hoffnung CDs

Advertising on
Musicweb


Donate and get a free CD

New Releases

Naxos Classical

Hyperion

Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
Alto
Arcodiva
CDAccord
Cameo Classics
Centaur
Hallé
Hortus
Lyrita
Nimbus
Northern Flowers
Redcliffe
Sheva
Talent
Toccata Classics


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing
sample
 


EXPLORE MUSICWEB INTERNATIONAL

Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews

 

Discographies
   Composer
      Composer surveys
   National
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
.
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

Interviews
With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site

Nostalgia

Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Comment
Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure

Announcements

 

Community
Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Reviewers
Pat and present

Helpers invited!

Resources
How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips


Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Publishers
Other links
Newsgroups
Web News sites etc

PotPourri
A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Questionnaire    
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Dictionary
Magazines
Newsfeed  
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools




Return to Review Index

Untitled Document


Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.