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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
String Quartets
Juilliard String Quartet
rec. 1964-1970, Columbia 30th Street Studio, New York City. ADD
SONY CLASSICS 19075992332 [9 CDs: 505:33]

These are generally swift, aggressive performances of remarkable brilliance and virtuosity from America’s premier string quartet, recorded in excellent analogue sound. The personnel of the quartet changed slightly over the six years when the recordings were made but its effect, approach and sonority remained much the same, drawing accolades from the press and public alike – once they had become acclimatised to its very up-front and American attack. According to Tully Potter’s excellent notes, they were even booed in Amsterdam in their early days, but folk soon acclimatised and warmed to their manner. Integration and intonation are flawless, although early reviews referred to their “brashness” and “explosiveness” - albeit in admiring terms; certainly the vigour of their playing and the energy it generates are qualities which cannot fail to strike the listener.

One effect of this is to minimise the extent to which the earlier quartets owe any debt to predecessors such as Haydn and enhance their more daring and innovative qualities. For the most part, their interpretative choices are to my ears impeccable, although I find that there are one or two points where I miss the profundity which a more reflective manner engenders; one such instance is their playing of the justly famous Cavatina Adagio in Op. 130, which lacks something of the flow and meditative quality required to bring out its sublimity. In my experience, no-one captures the timeless serenity of that music as well as the Medici on Nimbus; too many quartets rush the pace as the Juilliard Quartet does here and the “molto espressivo” instruction is neglected. On the other hand, the stately beauty of suspended harmonies and courtly, deliberately Mozartian, progressions in the Heiliger Dankgesang in Op. 132 are delivered to perfection and, at the other extreme, the fierce, even baffling, modernity of the Große Fuge is given full rein, even if the recorded sound there is somewhat harsh.

My loyalties when it comes to recommendations for complete quartets remain primarily with the above-mentioned Medici and the Alban Berg sets but this clearly has much to offer, despite my reservations.

Ralph Moore

Early String Quartets
CD 1 [49:28]
Quartet No. 1 in F major, Op. 18/1 (1798-1800) [26:46]
Quartet No. 2 in G major, Op. 18/2 (1798-1800) [22:35]
CD 2 [46:36]
Quartet No. 3 in D major, Op. 18/3 (1798-1800) [24:40]
Quartet No. 4 in C minor, Op. 18/4 (1798-1800) [21:48]
CD 3 [54:01]
Quartet No. 5 in A major, Op. 18/5 (1798-1800) [27:59]
Quartet No. 6 in B flat major, Op. 18/6 (1798-1800) [25:54]
Middle String Quartets
CD 4 [38:34]
Quartet No. 7 in F major, Op. 59/1 ‘Rasumovsky’ (1805/6) [38:32]
CD 5 [62:04]
Quartet No. 8 in E minor, Op. 59/2 ‘Rasumovsky’ (1805/6) [33:32]
Quartet No. 9 in C major, Op. 59/3 ‘Rasumovsky’ (1805/6) [28:25]
CD 6 [51:52]
Quartet No. 10 in E flat major, Op. 74 ‘The Harp’ (pub. 1809) [30:45]
Quartet No. 11 in F minor, Op. 95 ‘Serioso’ (1810) [20:59]
Late String Quartets
CD 7 [76:32]
Quartet No. 12 in E flat major, Op. 127 (1824-25) [38:19]
Quartet No. 13 in B flat major, Op. 130 (1825-26) [38:06]
CD 8 [55:22]
Große Fuge in B flat major, Op. 133 (1825-26) [14:40]
Quartet No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 131 (1826) [40:00]
CD 9 [71:04]
Quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132 (1825) [44:52]
Quartet No. 16 in F major, Op. 135 (1826) [26:05]

Robert Mann (violin I); Earl Carlyss/Isidore Cohen (violin II); Raphael Hillyer/Samuel Rhodes (viola); Claus Adam (cello)

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