Beethoven: String Quartet in F, Op. 18/1; String Quartet in C sharp minor, Op. 131

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Capriccio
WORKS: String Quartet in F, Op. 18/1; String Quartet in C sharp minor, Op. 131
PERFORMER: Petersen Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 10 510 DDD
Can there be any composer before Beethoven whose music underwent so drastic a stylistic change during the course of his life? These two works, from more or less opposite ends of Beethoven’s string quartet career, are recognisable as the products of the same creative mind, but only just. The Opus 18 quartets, written concurrently with Haydn’s last string quartets, are certainly forward-looking, not least No. 1, with its impassioned slow movement apparently inspired by the vault scene from Romeo and Juliet – but they stand worlds apart from Beethoven’s five late quartets. Op. 131 is in some ways the most original of them all, with seven sections played continuously, and no clear sonata form until the finale.

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It is brave of the Petersen Quartet to have recorded such a summit of the repertoire just two years after acquiring a new leader, but these young German players make an impressive showing. No half measures here: quick movements are played with extreme energy and tension, while slow movements are given ample breathing space. This is, too, a very well-matched ensemble: the theme of Op. 131’s wonderful variation movement is divided phrase by phrase between the violins, but such is the similarity of tone of the Petersen’s players that one can hardly tell two instruments are involved. Misha Donat