Beethoven: String Quartet in D, Op. 18/3; String Quartet in B flat, Op. 18/6

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Dabringhaus und Grimm Gold
WORKS: String Quartet in D, Op. 18/3; String Quartet in B flat, Op. 18/6
PERFORMER: Leipzig Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 307 0856-2
First signs are good. The opening movement of Op. 18/6 sets off with the speed and steely grace of a prize greyhound, and the journey never disappoints. ‘Steely grace’ would probably do as a description of the second movement, too, only now the manner begins to sound austere. The rhythmic games of the scherzo come across well. I’m not so convinced, though, by the Leipzig’s attempt to demonstrate the basic unity of conception behind the last two interlinked movements. The players take the two main tempi – Adagio and Allegretto quasi Allegro – as though they had the same basic pulse, even though Beethoven’s metronome markings indicate something rather different. It smoothes over rather than highlights the extremes of Beethoven’s mood-swings, making them less radical. This Classicising, balancing approach is more effective in Op. 18/3, though here again there’s something rather dour about the results. I think it’s worth paying a little more for the Quartetto Italiano’s mid-price set of the complete Op. 18 Quartets. Initially the players may seem more soft-centred than the Leipzig Quartet, and certainly they’re slower off the mark in Op. 18/6, but the range of expressive colour and the sense of drama of each quartet is more compelling, despite the relatively intimate manner. In their hands the ending of Op. 18/6 is enigmatic, but intriguing – you’re much more likely to want to go back and explore further. Stephen Johnson