confess to being sceptical about this set. Presentation
tends to be drab, and my cynical side said that the cover’s
boast of “complete performances with all marked repeats” was
just to net sales in compensation for mediocre performances.
This is a set that brought me huge amounts of joy. Being
proved so conclusively wrong in this fashion is what reviewing
is all about – after all, I am sure many collectors may
bypass this set on the shelves (if anyone shops in physical
premises these days that is) in favour of the more accepted
versions (ABQ in their earliest EMI version or the DVD
live performances, Busch Quartet on a GROC, Quartetto Italiano …).
Do give this a try, though. The integrity of these accounts,
plus the superlative but unshowy recording by the experienced
Judith Sherman means this could stand alone as a single
version. The recording is on the dry side, appropriately
enough for interpretations that steadfastly refuse to wallow.
I only own one other Parnassus disc – string quartets by
Villa-Lobos, Hindemith and Quincy Porter, reviewed here
by both Jonathan
– but am intrigued by the catalogue. Alongside
rare Richter, there is Gregorian Chant: The Early Interpreters
1928-1936), something I already long to hear, plus recordings
by Grumiaux and Starker.
The three discs are laid out thusly: CD1, Opp. 95 and
130 (with both finales); CD2, Opp. 127 and 131; CD3, Opp.
132 and 135.
Colorado Quartet attacks the Allegro con brio of the F
minor resolutely. The documentation claims that Op. 95
was recorded in a single day, and the spontaneity reflects
this, particularly in the intense Allegretto ma non troppo
second movement. The sheer energy of the scamperings of
the finale is to marvel at and underlines the fact that
for the Colorado Quartet nothing in late Beethoven is going
to stretch their techniques. A similar case to the Alban
Berg Quartet, one might argue, except that the ABQ can
sometimes revel in their own expertise. Never here.
I imagine, has their favourite late Beethoven Quartet.
Myself, I go for the great Op. 130. Rightly, the Colorado
puts the Grosse Fuge
in place as the correct finale,
with Beethoven’s “adjustment” - the significantly briefer,
slighter alternative he wrote - as the final track of the
disc. The Presto second movement scampers magnificently,
true chamber music in terms of ensemble and sheer listening
to each other, all at high velocity. There is a suave and
knowing touch to the “Alla danza tedesca”, taken slightly
slower than the norm to emphasise its inherent profundity
in such as way as it simultaneously contrast and
with the heavenly Cavatina. Beethoven’s “Adagio molto” requirement
is adhered to, resulting in a performance that threatens
to still time itself. The sheer rawness of the opening
of the finale (Grosse Fuge) is entirely apposite to its
context. This is a gritty, sinewy reading that seems to
delight in Beethoven’s stretching of limits – limits of
form, expression and technical possibility. The ghostly
accompanying parts at around the six-seven minute mark,
under a single high violin line, is one memorable moment
among many. Perhaps the trills around nine minutes in do
not buzz with full late Beethovenian energy but this remains
a wonderful account, true to Beethoven’s spirit. Somehow,
the replacement finale does not sound too trite if one
plays the CD through to compare finales.
easy fluency of the first movement of Op. 127 is light-footedly
caught by the Colorado Quartet here. But this is to be
no lightweight reading, as the beautiful, extended (12:38)
Adagio attests. That interior world here links directly
to that of Op. 127’s partner on this disc, Op. 131, in
particular the latter’s contrapuntally-obsessed opening
Adagio and the Andante ma non troppo e molto cantabile.
Strong discipline is once more in evidence for the Presto.
This is not the greatest Op. 131 I have heard but it remains
a fine version. It doesn’t ignite quite like Op. 130 does,
though, and the recording means that the very final chords
emerge rather harshly.
final disc twins the mighty A minor with the briefer Op.
135. The A minor, of course, holds the “Heiliger Dankgesang”,
a psychological clearing-house. The first movement prepares
the territory mixing exquisite webs of sound with more
gritty intent but there is no doubt that the Song of Thanksgiving
is the emotional centre here. The crisply articulated Alla
marcia seems to hold its secrets close to its chest. Finally,
the relatively short Op. 135. If the Colorado Quartet miss
to some extent the playfulness of the first movement, their
razor-sharp ensemble compensates in the ensuing Vivace.
Although only just over seven minutes, the Lento assai
contains whole worlds of emotion, balanced by the ease
of expression (and performance) of the finale.
admirable set in almost every way.