Beethoven: String Quartets, Op. 18/4-6

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Nimbus
WORKS: String Quartets, Op. 18/4-6
PERFORMER: Brandis Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5353 DDD
More than most other works of his early period, Beethoven’s Op. 18 string quartets find him struggling to contain his fecund originality within the confines of the Classical style. No. 4 is the most traditional of the set (it may indeed have been composed first), but No. 6, written on the cusp of the 19th century, seems to be gleefully turning its nose up at convention, with its quirky humour and ambivalent harmonies.

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Formed in 1976, the Brandis Quartet consists of present and former members of the Berlin PO, including the orchestra’s leader through the Sixties and Seventies, Thomas Brandis. Their playing is a characteristic mixture of dramatic gesture and sleekness of string tone. There are times in the gentler passages when one could wish for more relaxation, but the performances are scrupulously prepared without ever becoming anonymous in their expressiveness. There are also occasions when one feels the music could smile a little more through the dedicated earnestness of the playing, though they make the most of the wit in the outer movements of No. 6.

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The sound is warmly natural: the microphones appear close, catching almost too vividly the occasional over-ferocity of attack, but there’s plenty of ambience, too. Matthew Rye