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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Quartet for strings no.1 in F Major, Op.18 No.1 (1801) [30:42]
Fuge in D Major, Op.137 (1817) [2:09]
String Quintet in C Major, Op.29 (1801) [36.31]
Delian Quartet; Gérard Caussé (viola) Opp. 137 and 29.
rec. 11-13 June 2010 (Op.18), 21-24 October 2010, Kammermusiksaal, Deutschlandfunk, Cologne
OEHMS CLASSICS OC796 [68:57]

The Delian Quartet was formed in 2007 and has garnered high praise. It joins the ever-increasing number of exciting young ensembles.

Chamber music as a genre is not particularly popular. Peter Cropper, former leader of the sadly defunct Lindsays, said it was strange playing music only 60,000 people in the UK are interested in. When one comes to the quartets of Beethoven there are so many recordings already, and I own quite a few, that new issues are in danger of being overlooked.

Beethoven’s first quartet, actually the second written and amended by the composer before publication, is one of six in Op. 18, commonly called the early quartets. Beethoven took time before composing quartets and had produced several string trios in the 1790s. Technically these are harder than the later works and certainly show a mature composer, moving the genre on from Haydn and Mozart. The slow movement, which was inspired by Juliet’s tomb in Verona, is most effective and an indication of where Beethoven was going in his later works. The performance by the Delian is very sensitive and shows great empathy. They are certainly “into” the work. This is a very confident group from the start and their rendition of the second movement is captivating. The players are helped by an excellent recording that gave me the impression that they were playing live in front of me; just what one wants. There is also a feeling of four equal musicians rather than a dominant leader and that's essential but not always the case. Any fears that Beethoven may be too demanding for a relatively new ensemble were very pleasantly dismissed.

The Fuge was inspired by Bach and is interesting but sadly finishes after only two minutes. For this and the following work the Quartet are joined by viola player Gérard Caussé who gave the first performance of the Ainsi la nuit quartet by Henri Dutilleux. The Beethoven String Quintet has always seemed to me a fine piece from its melodic and charming first movement but remains comparatively unknown. A couple of ensembles such as the Endellion and the Lindsays have recorded it as part of complete surveys but otherwise it is ignored. I have not heard the Fine Arts (Naxos) or the Nash Ensemble (Hyperion), two relatively recent recordings, but the Delian seem excellent to me in this work. The slow movement, similar to that in the Quartet needs suitable melancholy without laying it on with a trowel. This they achieve very well. It seems sad to me that this fine work is so little known and I will return to this performance with great pleasure.

The Delian Quartet have achieved a great standard in their relative short time together and produced a fine CD which deserves listening to by those who are ready for more Beethoven quartet recordings ... which is where I started.
 
David R Dunsmore