WORKS: String Quartets, Op. 18/1, 2, 3
PERFORMER: Cleveland Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CD-80382 DDD
An apocryphal notion of the composer as iconoclastic revolutionary infuses this new cycle from the Turner Quartet, authenticists who consistently outflank rival period accounts from the Smithson Quartet, also on Harmonia Mundi. These are curtly doctrinal readings; the emphatic urgency propelling the opening Allegro con brio of No. 6 and heroic muscularity of the finale of No. 2 underscore another familiar dictum, as ‘Napoleon [or rather his musical alter ego, Beethoven] bursts into the Classical drawing-room’ with these works. The Turner Quartet heralds his triumphant arrival, yet asserts that he’s in no hurry to leave.
Telarc’s sonorous Cleveland Quartet performances reflect our fin de siècle perception of Beethoven, as did the legendary Busch and Végh Quartet documentations of former decades. But sadly, their journey will remain incomplete. This phenomenal ensemble will part after the current season, but Telarc assures me that Cleveland performances of the remaining Op. 18 works are scheduled for future release. This first instalment, however, seems virtually unsurpassable; the homogeneity, precision, tonal refinement and moral integrity of this music-making (not forgetting the remarkable Telarc sonics) leave one thunderstruck, and gasping for more Beethoven playing of this eminence. If you can justify the outlay, I can only commend both newcomers with unreserved enthusiasm; any polarisation of viewpoints is totally engrossing. Michael Jameson