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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Quartets (1785): C, WoO36/3 [16:54]; E flat, WoO36/1 [24:05]; D, WoO36/2 [23:14]
New Zealand Piano Quartet (Richard Mapp (piano); Yury Gezentsvey (violin); Donald Maurice (viola); David Chickering (cello))
rec. Illott Concert Room, Wellington Town Hall, New Zealand, 4-5 December 2005. DDD
NAXOS 8.5709988 [64:13]
Experience Classicsonline

The engineers here have gone for an integrated view of the sound-space rather than an overt foregrounding of the piano. Initially I felt that the strings were too close, and the piano rather recessed, making it far easier for the ear to lock on to the string activity. The ear adjusts quickly and this is not off-putting but it is true that the recording does not flatter the string instruments, making the violin’s long cantilena in the slow movement of the C major more of a chore to endure. The cello response survives better.

This is interesting repertoire. Beethoven’s Piano Trios are far better known than his Piano Quartets, the latter of which do not even own opus numbers. Beethoven was a mere fifteen when he wrote them. They are clearly the work of a precocious talent. This Naxos issue has presented the works in what it believes to be the original order. Artaria published them in the numbered order, posthumously.

The slow movement of the first, if heard without warning, is sure to raise an eyebrow. The theme is that of the slow movement of the Piano Sonata Op. 2/1 of 1793-95. A transitional phrase from the first movement similarly reappears later elsewhere, specifically in Op. 2/3. The first movement is bright, with much fizzing passagework. The finale mirrors the first in that it is joyful and carefree.

The E flat Quartet begins with a slow movement: Adagio assai. It is an extended utterance of some depth, far too expansive to be construed as a slow introduction to the fiery Allegro con spirito that follows. The sedate, tranquil, cantabile theme that heads the finale is subjected to a sequence of generally gallant variations - there is one stormier variation, the fifth. The work’s close is deliciously witty.

Finally, the D major. This is not the brightest D major, rather one that seeks to explore a variety of different shades, so more carefree sections rub shoulders with more intense moments. The central Andante con moto is warm and welcoming, while the finale’s theme celebrates its own deliberate naïveté.

Well worth exploring, therefore.

Colin Clarke 


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