Beethoven: String Quartet in C minor, Op. 18/4; String Quartet in A minor, Op. 132

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Capriccio
WORKS: String Quartet in C minor, Op. 18/4; String Quartet in A minor, Op. 132
PERFORMER: Petersen Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 10 722 DDD
Although the key of Beethoven’s early C minor quartet might appear symbolic, the impetuous opening is a reworking of his setting of Goethe’s ‘Ich denke dein’ (‘I think of thee’), from the album of the two Brunswick countesses, whose Hungarian ancestry is honoured in the Haydnesque ‘Gypsy Rondo’ finale. The Kodály Quartet plays the work superbly; the first movement has rigour and urgency, and the novel quasi-scherzo cum slow movement displays its lyric accomplishments to the full. The Kodály’s account of Op. 18/3 (chronologically the first Beethoven quartet) is again lavishly detailed and atmospherically recorded. This Naxos Beethoven cycle seems destined to repeat the huge success of the Kodály’s Haydn series for this budget label.

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The Petersens produce leaner sonorities in an aggressively motoric reading of Op. 18/4; the scherzo (a minute quicker than the Kodály’s) is brusque, perfunctory and humourless. Though I’ve had high praise for the Petersens hitherto, the unexpected rigidity of their playing in Op. 132 also fails to impress. The sacred pages of the ‘Heiliger Dankgesang’ evince little penitential awe, while even the passage marked ‘Neue Kraft fühlend (‘Feeling renewed strength’) remains earthbound. Capriccio’s recording is good, but on this evidence, the Petersen lacks the idiomatic distinction of the Kodály, with whom a future adventure among Beethoven’s late quartets seems an enticing prospect.