Beethoven: Quartet in F minor, Op. 95 (Quartetto serioso); Quartet in C sharp minor, Op. 131; Grosse Fuge, Op. 133

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Quartet in F minor, Op. 95 (Quartetto serioso); Quartet in C sharp minor, Op. 131; Grosse Fuge, Op. 133
PERFORMER: Borodin Quartet
There’s much to admire in the Borodin Quartet’s Beethoven: the warmth of the playing and, in the ‘Grand Fugue’, Op. 133, the textural clarity even during the pages of relentless fortissimo. The engineers seem to have got to grips with the acoustic of the Grand Hall in the Moscow Conservatory, too, and the sound quality is a distinct improvement over the first two volumes in this series (reviewed March & August 2004). Nevertheless, doubts still linger over the occasional ponderousness of the interpretations, particularly in the ‘serioso’ Quartet, Op. 95, whose opening movement and scherzo cry out for more energy and tension than the Borodin players offer. The scherzo’s trio is distinctly languorous, too, and the increase in tempo Beethoven asks for in the coda fails to materialise. Also broader than usual is the Borodin’s view of the finale of the C sharp minor Quartet, Op. 131, but here the steadier tempo allows for greater weight and, in the lyrically expansive second subject, an increase in expressive intensity. But the real expressive kernel of the work is its wonderful central variation movement. On the whole it’s sensitively handled here, though the ‘chugging’ chords of the second variation are far from the indicated pianissimo, and the following variation is also too forthright to convey the ‘flattering’ quality Beethoven asks for. For a performance that really tugs at the heartstrings it’s hard to beat the Amadeus Quartet, who also provide a more taut and dramatic account of the F minor work. Misha Donat