Beethoven: String Quartets, Op. 18
The Allegri Quartet has gone through a good many changes of personnel over the years, and the present ensemble has inherited no more than the name from the group that was founded in the 1950s by the violinist Eli Goren and the cellist William Pleeth. To judge from this new disc, however, the Allegri Quartet is still alive and well, and the first thing that needs to be said about the performances is how likeable they are: the playing has all the intelligence, energy and expressive freedom that are needed to convey the wilfully original character of Beethoven’s early String Quartets.
The Quartet Op. 18 No. 4, in the composer’s characteristic C minor, sometimes emerges as the weak link in the series – the most backward-looking of the pieces. Not here, however: the Allegri Quartet vividly captures the drama and nervousness of the outer movements, as well as the mercurial lightness of the transparently-scored Andante. Only the minuet third movement is slightly misjudged: here the initial tempo is so quick that it leaves virtually no room for the increase of speed Beethoven asks for in the reprise, following the trio section.
The A major Fifth Quartet is Beethoven’s homage to Mozart’s great Quartet in the same key, K464, and the Allegri players bring out both its Classical roots, and its quirky individuality. No less refreshingly imaginative and lively is the D major Quartet, Op. 18 No. 3. With its exemplary recording, this disc earns the highest recommendation.