Beethoven: String Quartet in B flat, Op. 130 (with Grosse Fuge); String Quartet in F, Op. 135

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
WORKS: String Quartet in B flat, Op. 130 (with Grosse Fuge); String Quartet in F, Op. 135
PERFORMER: Juilliard String Quartet
This recording marks Robert Mann’s farewell to the Juilliard Quartet after more than fifty years as leader. It has been a remarkable achievement, not least for the firm commitment the quartet has always made towards contemporary music: many composers owe the Juilliards an immense debt of gratitude for the care and dedication they have brought to bear on their works. These performances of two of Beethoven’s most boldly forward-looking works provide a fitting swansong. (Following Robert Mann’s retirement, the second violinist, Joel Smirnoff, has moved up to be leader.) Op. 130 is the work for which Beethoven provided a more easy-going finale, as a substitute for the uncompromisingly gritty ‘Grand Fugue’. The Juilliards characteristically opt for the fugal original, and play it with a vigour which belies their years. For the rest, these are mellow, affectionate accounts, full of wisdom and experience, though the scherzo of Beethoven’s last quartet, Op. 135, sounds curiously sedate; and the reprise of the slow movement, where the wonderfully serene chorale-like melody passes down to the cello, is rather lacking in a sense of line. But these are small points. Here are performances of these timeless works which have much to offer. Misha Donat