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Beethoven: String Quartets, Op. 74 & 130 / Chiaroscuro Quartet

Beethoven: String Quartets, Op. 74 & 130 / Chiaroscuro Quartet

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After the six Op. 18 quartets, the much-acclaimed Chiaroscuro Quartet now turns to two masterpieces from Beethoven’s middle and late periods. String Quartet No. 10 in E flat major, Op. 74, nicknamed ‘Harp’ because of the abundant pizzicati in its first movement, comes across as a genial and unproblematic work that was very well received immediately upon publication and has remained one of the composer’s best-loved quartets. String Quartet No. 13 in B flat major, Op. 130, is in a very different vein. Belonging to the series of so-called ‘late’ quartets composed between 1824 and 1826, it is a six-movement structure modelled on an eighteenth-century divertimento, adding two movements to the traditional four-movement scheme: an Alla danza tedesca and a Cavatina. Despite its evocation of an archaic dance, the Alla danza tedesca is typically Beethovenian, with its original treatment of dynamics. The Cavatina, which moved the composer to tears during its composition, is a lyrical and moving piece. Beethoven had intended to conclude this imposing work with a large-scale fugue, but its boldness baffled his first listeners and, at the request of his publisher, he resorted instead to a more approachable movement presenting a mixture of laconic dryness and, in places, tender lyricism.


Though there’s no shortage of recordings of the Beethoven quartets, versions by groups taking an historically informed approach to these works, such as these from the Chiaroscuro Quartet, are still relatively rare. The ensemble's sound world is warmer, more expressively flexible and transparent than we have become so used to in this familiar music. The wonderfully paced opening of the E flat Quartet Op 74, grows steadily in insistence, until it blossoms into melody in a totally unforced way, setting the tone for everything that follows; there seem to be no preconceptions in these performances, everything comes from the music itself.

The challenges of the B flat Quartet Op 130 are on a different level, and not every decision the Chiaroscuro make in that work is convincing – the great slow movement, the Cavatina, is taken just a fraction too fast, for instance, but the finale that follows (the replacement that Beethoven composed in 1826, not the original Grosse Fuge) has a wonderfully clipped character that, like a lot in these performances, seems perfectly appropriate.

-- The Guardian (Andrew Clements)

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    • UPC/Barcode: 7318599926681
    • Item Number: BIS-2668