Beethoven: String Quartets Vol 5: Opp. 95 & 127; String Quartets Vol. 6: Op. 130; String Quartets Vol. 7: Op. 132; String Quartets Vol. 8: Opp. 131 & 135

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Intim Musik
WORKS: String Quartets Vol 5: Opp. 95 & 127; String Quartets Vol. 6: Op. 130; String Quartets Vol. 7: Op. 132; String Quartets Vol. 8: Opp. 131 & 135
PERFORMER: Vanbrugh Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: IMCD 047, 048, 049, 050 (distr. Kingdom)
Beethoven’s late string quartets demonstrate an exceptional balance between the surface musical effect and its inner meaning. In these new recordings, the Vanbrugh Quartet’s polished ensemble and forthright approach persuasively underline this music’s foreground diversity, but the tendency to extremes in its playing is less successful at expressing its underlying unity.

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The players’ full-bodied tone and direct response to gesture boldly bring out the external drama. They conjure the necessary brio in Op. 95, shape detail with style in Op. 127, communicate the emotional opposition of fugue and free composition effectively in Op. 131 and convincingly resolve Op. 135’s unsettling rhythmic asymmetry and melodic angularity into the relaxed good humour of its finale.

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Nonetheless, I found their interpretative grasp wanting in the more profound corners of this repertoire. They take the Cavatina of Op. 130 at a challengingly slow pace that, for all its hypnotic timelessness, fails to find the perfect equilibrium of, say, the Alban Berg Quartet’s version. The Alban Berg’s majestic alternative plunges to greater depths for the agonising heaviness of heart (‘Beklemmt’), and its portrayal of the contrast between strict and free composition is far more compelling. Its luminous accounts of the Grosse Fuge and the slow movement of Op. 132 are likewise more revelatory. All the same, the Vanbrugh’s vigorous commitment to these works frequently achieves a potent intensity that many will find alluring. Nicholas Rast