Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
String Quartet No.13 in B flat major Op.130 (1825) [37:55]
Grosse Fuge in B flat major Op.133 (1825) [16:18]
rec. 16-20 June 2008, Sofienberg kirke, Oslo
SIMAX SACD PSC 1265 [56:16]

Coupling the Op.130, as it now stands, with its originally intended finale, the formidable Grosse Fuge, is not a novelty but is always worthwhile. It renders a single quartet disc such as this short value in terms of timings, but it adds a colossal focus and drama.

Vertavo prefers a rather withdrawn, slow and tapered introduction, phrasally speaking. Their unison bowing is light, flexible, enshrining a certain irresolution, as if they feel a lack of definite purpose is at the heart of the writing, and much of the writing to come. Others may feel a lack of melodic definition. Nevertheless this is a nuanced, flexible view very much at odds with, say, the Busch or, more recently, the Budapest or Fine Arts, to pick two others almost at random. The Presto that follows is very mellifluous – a hallmark of their playing – but in the rather washy acoustic their phrase endings rather slide away and aren’t clipped or defined. Their homogenous approach is again dextrous but one I find rather wan and lacking in drama and rhythmic impulse. It’s rather too dainty.

The Andante is well phrased, and once again homogeneity is the calling card, a real tonal blend, but there’s something too manicured about the Alla danza tedesca. It sounds as if it’s been rehearsed to death and the smoothing out tends to sap spontaneity. The Busch take a similar tempo but are in a different realm of expression. Vertavo take a vigorous tempo in the Cavatina where inner voice vibrato increases in accordance with the intense depth of expression, though it’s surely not nostalgia that leads me to note that the Busch and, in their different way, the Léner offer profoundly more moving performances at slower tempi. The finale is bright and energetic – I liked it best of all the movements. And the Grosse Fuge is both well paced and tenaciously played. Their organ-like unison at the start is certainly remarkable.

In many ways this is a laudable traversal; well prepared, and technically generally very sound. But it strikes me overall as over-nuanced.

Jonathan Woolf

Laudable and technically very sound but over-nuanced