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 Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 307 0820-2
Beethoven considered the late C sharp minor Quartet his finest composition in this genre, and its vast span of seven movements, played without a break and lasting some 40 minutes, is a challenge to the musicianship and stamina of any who take it up. The Leipzig and Cleveland Quartets are ensembles of distinction, and there’s little to choose between their interpretations. The Leipzig cellist is underpowered, though he plays out well enough when he has an important theme to carry (eg in the Presto). By contrast, his Cleveland counterpart is rather obtrusive. Both quartets convey the pathos of the introductory fugue, the Clevelanders clearer in their entries, the Leipzig players more committed to the finer dynamic shadings. Both bring off the huge variations movement superbly, the four Leipzigers playing as one, finding an engaging tread at the Più mosso (track 8, 2:45 mins) and some neat trills (4:41).

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In the Presto, the Clevelanders are faster, but, for me, the Leipzig ensemble’s slightly less headlong pace is just right, accommodating the coaxing phrases as well as the overall bustle. I find the Clevelanders slightly preferable in the finale, although, incidentally, they miscount the final cadence.

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Both interpretations are valid and I could happily live with either. Your final choice may depend on the coupling. The Leipzigers offer an impressive account of the final, Op. 135 Quartet in F; the Cleveland players settle for the E flat Quartet, Op. 127. Wadham Sutton