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

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: String Quartet Op. 59 (Razumovsky); String Quartet in E flat, Op. 74 (Harp)
PERFORMER: Takács Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 470 847-2
By reserving the F minor Quartet, Op. 95 – a piece that stands on the cusp of Beethoven’s last period – for future inclusion in a volume of the late works, the Takács Quartet has managed to accommodate this first instalment in its complete Beethoven cycle on only two discs. The players take a broad view of this great music, with every single repeat observed, and the playing itself is superbly assured throughout: seldom has the slow introduction of the Harp Quartet, Op. 74, sounded more mysterious, the scherzo-like second movement of the first Razumovsky more transparent, or the slow movement of Op. 59/2 more radiantly serene. This last piece is taken at a genuine Molto adagio, in four beats to the bar – much slower than one is used to – and it emerges in a completely new, and thoroughly convincing light.

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One or two of the remaining slow movements, however, strike me as a little less successful. The Adagio of the Harp is so slow as to verge on the sentimental, and when the music turns to the minor the tempo drags still further; while the steady pace of the second movement from Op. 59/3 (not a genuine slow movement, but an Allegretto), lends the music a somewhat heavy tread. In these pieces it is possible to prefer the more natural flow and expressive eloquence of the Amadeus Quartet, though its recording is compromised by a cavalier attitude towards repeats. Certainly, this newcomer offers rich rewards, and augurs well for the continuation of the cycle. Misha Donat