Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)
String Quartet in G major op.44 No.4,La Tirana Spagnola [9:02]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
String Quartet No.17 in B flat major K458 The Hunt [23:23]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
String Quartet No.15 in A minor op.132 [44:26]
Quartetto Italiano (Paolo Borciani (violin); Elisa Pegreffi (violin); Piero Farulli (viola); Franco Rossi (cello))
rec. 22 February 1965, Royal Festival Hall, London
ICA CLASSICS ICAC 5070 [77:07]

The Quartetto Italiano is captured live here, in the Royal Festival Hall in London. The recital was given on 22 February 1965. The three works all feature in the studio discography of the group. They had taken the Boccherini Quartet into their repertoire a decade before, and had recorded it in mono in 1956. Their survey of all Mozart’s Quartets is still much admired though they had only taken this particular quartet into the active repertoire in 1956. Their Beethoven quartets are, if anything, even more admired but rather surprisingly - though perhaps explicably given their meticulous preparation - the quartet had not attempted Beethoven’s Op.132 before 1962.
Their Boccherini - home soil for the foursome - is characteristically full of elegance, precision, beautiful internal balance and cleanliness. These qualities in no way preclude the natural wit of the writing to be submerged or elided. Indeed the quicksilver qualities implicit in the quartet are perfectly realised. The perfectly calibrated bow weighting in the second of the two movements, a genial Minuet, are a fine example of preparation and acclimatisation to the big hall. It all makes for a fine addition to the group’s discography. The BBC’s stereo sound is another advantage over the studio’s mono.
They take to Mozart’s Hunt quartet with engaging alacrity. Tempi are sensible and the character of the music making deepens and ripens in the slow movement where a greater intensity indicates increased vibrato width. The sound and tone production remains one of considerable purity and congruity, a flexible spruce and very personal sound-world that often evokes bel canto lyricism.
In the Beethoven, quite rightly, their corporate tone is heavier, though still recognisably their own. Technically this is a performance of considerable elevation and where necessary - such as in the rusticities of the second moment Allegro - colour and vitality. The great slow movement seems to have been predicated strongly on the pioneering and highly influential 78 set by the Busch Quartet, who also took things to heavenly lengths. I’ve never been of the opinion that extending this movement to nineteen or twenty minutes - the Quartetto Italiano take 19 and a half - is of itself an index of expressive intensity. Sometimes it’s an index of inertia. The question is whether the architecture of the movement, hence the quartet of a whole, suffers as a result, and whether it makes structural and expressive sense. Certainly the quartet sustains its slow movement and whilst I admire the results - as with the Busch - I’m out of sympathy with the ethos.
These performances are issued for the first time on CD.
Jonathan Woolf 

The Quartetto Italiano captured live.