Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
String Quartet No. 5 in A major, Op. 18/5 (1798-9) [31:02]
String Quartet No. 3 in D major, Op. 18/3 (1798-9) [24:08]
String Quartet No. 16 in F major, Op. 135 (1826) [23:22]
Artemis Quartet (Natalia Prischepenko (violin); Gregor Sigl (violin); Friedemann Weigle (viola); Eckart Runge (cello))
rec. 21-22 December 2010 (Op. 18/5); 27-28 January 2011 (Op. 18/3); 9-11 February 2011 (Op. 135), Teldex Studio, Berlin.
VIRGIN CLASSICS 50999 0708342 6 [78:34]

The Artemis Quartet is now up to disc number six in their projected cycle of the complete Beethoven string quartets for Virgin Classics. The Artemis cycle is proving to be one of the finest in the catalogue.

It was at music school in LŁbeck where the Artemis was formed in 1989. However the official start of their performing career came in 1999 with a recital at the Berlin Philharmonie. Two testing changes in personnel occurred in 2007 with Gregor Sigl and Friedemann Weigle joining the quartet. Having heard all the Artemis recordings the transition to the new line-up has clearly been highly successful.

Beethovenís op. 18 set of six quartets was composed as a commission from the composerís Vienna-based aristocratic benefactor Prince Franz Joseph Lobkowitz. The numbering does not correspond to the actual composition dates. It seems that the first quartet to be completed was No. 3 in 1798/9. Commencing with an amiable section the opening Allegro develops short episodes of stormy almost angry writing. The cordial Andante con moto is here performed with a high degree of precision and elegance. Fresh and breezy in the manner of a Minuet, the movement has a pleasingly delicate and refined feel like the finest porcelain. The good-humoured concluding movement - a Haydnesque Presto - just hurtles along excitedly like a thoroughbred racehorse.

The Fifth Quartet is thought to be the fourth to be composed. Musicologists have generally agreed that Beethoven used Mozartís A major String Quartet, K.464 from 1785 as a model. I was immediately struck by the thrilling playing of the Artemis in the lengthy and exciting opening Allegro. The Minuet is performed so gracefully. Setting the scene was the glorious opening theme on the violins. Designed as a theme and set of variations the Andante cantabile contains a balanced sense of august affection requiring significant concentration for its nine and a half minute length. Considerable youthful vitality abounds in the good-natured sonata-form Finale. I found the headlong dash to the conclusion quite exhilarating.

Beethoven wrote his String Quartet No. 16 in F major, Op. 135 in 1826. This was Beethovenís final string quartet and last complete work to be composed. It was premiŤred in 1828 after his death. Unlike the monumental scale of Beethovenís other late quartets the Op. 135 is more concise in design - not unlike the scale of his Op. 18 set. The F major opens with an Allegretto deploying a number of brief themes. Frequently the writing feels like a heated yet affectionate dialogue. Marked Vivace the briskly taken Scherzo is highly impulsive as if spinning the listener around and around. The elegiac slow movement draws such touching tenderness from the Artemis. Commencing with a slow and solemn introduction the Finale becomes fiery and somewhat defiant in character. Like witnessing a ferocious attack the fortissimo at 4:28-4:48 was remarkable and leaves a lasting impression.

One again praise is due to the audio production team for Virgin Classics. Recorded last winter at the Teldex Studio, Berlin the close and vividly clear sound is of the finest quality. Additionally the booklet contains a well written essay. In these exciting Beethoven performances the Artemis demonstrates an admirable rapport blending remarkable technical prowess with near flawless intonation. I cannot speak highly enough of these outstanding accounts.

Michael Cookson

Admirable rapport, remarkable technical prowess, near flawless intonation. Outstanding.