Beethoven: String Quartet in E minor, Op. 59/2 (Razumovsky); String Quartet in E flat, Op. 74 (Harp)

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
WORKS: String Quartet in E minor, Op. 59/2 (Razumovsky); String Quartet in E flat, Op. 74 (Harp)
PERFORMER: Kodály Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 8.550562
The first movement of the Rasumovsky begins with two really strong chords, but the urgency doesn’t continue: the basic tempo is slower than Beethoven’s metronome mark, so what should be a forward-thrusting allegro becomes something more genial and relaxed. A tendency to pull back in lyrical passages doesn’t help – the beginning of the coda, for instance, is marked by a most disconcerting gear change. The molto adagio that follows is also on the slow side, but somehow lacking in repose, particularly in the jerky and inconsistent treatment of dotted rhythms. And the third movement allegretto, which should be restless, remains with both its feet planted firmly on the ground, as does the finale, where the problem is compounded by some gratuitous lingering over bar-lines at crucial upbeats. All this may sound rather damning, but the Kodálys are in the market with the best, and in the Rasumovsky Quartets, the Lindsays are still up at the top. It’s not just that they manage to find the right tempo for each movement, and sustain it, but that their collective musical imagination is never at odds with Beethoven’s. The Harp Quartet is a more easy-going piece, and so suits the Kodálys better, but you still the have to contend with their irritating use of rubato, and their sometimes less than perfect ensemble – the scherzo suffers especially from this. Here the recommendation isn’t so clear-cut, but I find myself returning to the Végh Quartet, who also provide a wonderful reading of Op.127 as the coupling. Martin Cotton