Beethoven: String Quartet in D, Op. 18/3; String Quartet in B flat, Op. 130; Grosse Fuge, Op. 133

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: DG
WORKS: String Quartet in D, Op. 18/3; String Quartet in B flat, Op. 130; Grosse Fuge, Op. 133
PERFORMER: Emerson Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 449 505-2 DDD
Arguments as to which of the two alternative finales for Op. 130 is more apt will rumble on for ever; but by presenting only the Grosse Fuge here, when there would presumably have been room also for the less demanding piece Beethoven later substituted for it, the Emerson Quartet have nailed their colours firmly to the mast. Their performance of the opening fugal section is likely to raise a few eyebrows. Beethoven’s notation of the main fugue subject, in pairs of tied quavers rather than simple crotchets, indicates that he wanted it played with peculiar intensity, but whether he intended the second note of each pair to be as clearly articulated as here is open to some doubt.

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No less controversial is the Emerson’s slow tempo for the Alla danza tedesca fourth movement. Their approach certainly lends the music the lilt of a dance and allows the ‘hairpin’ dynamics to be executed gracefully; but Beethoven’s marking is ‘Allegro assai’, and the Presto alla tedesca from the Op. 79 Piano Sonata (which uses the same motif in inversion) perhaps also provides a hint that he might have wanted something a little quicker.

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Altogether, though, a stimulating disc, and one that augurs well for the Emerson Quartet’s complete Beethoven cycle, due for release later this year. Misha Donat