Beethoven: String Quartet in C sharp minor, Op. 131; String Quartet in F, Op. 135

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Dabringhaus und Grimm
WORKS: String Quartet in C sharp minor, Op. 131; String Quartet in F, Op. 135
PERFORMER: Leipzig String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 307 0820-2
Beethoven’s late quartets enshrine a novel relationship between freedom and connectivity which offers a consummate challenge to performers. The highly organised thematic links both within and between the quartets and their elaboration of the conventional four-movement plan do not betray an increased subjectivity, but show different solutions to the same compositional problem.

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The Lindsay’s award-winning accounts still shine brightly, as do exceptional versions by the Végh and Talich Quartets. The Lindsay’s interpretations are distinguished by concentrated intellectual and emotional intensity, preserved in ideally balanced recordings.

On this latest release, the Leipzig’s customary polish and refinement are informed by scrupulous observation of the textual details. In the F major Quartet (Op. 135), its sense of overall structure – reinforced by aptly chosen speeds and the inclusion of both finale repeats – is most impressive. Comparatively reverberant recorded sound enhances the resonance of its sensitively blended ensemble.

However, the Leipzig’s interpretation of the C sharp minor Quartet (Op. 131) struck me as strangely uncompelling. And it is the very qualities that make its reading of the F major Quartet so successful which seem to undermine the music’s effectiveness here. A consistent flow of energy throughout underlines the score’s organic coherence, but this is no match for the Lindsay’s more aptly focused inward quality. In the fourth movement, for example, the Leipzig’s quicker tempo fails to achieve the gravitas of the Lindsay’s awe-inspiring alternative.

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Nevertheless, the fine precision and musical intelligence of the Leipzig’s performances will undoubtedly attract a wide following. Nicholas Rast