Beethoven: String Quartet in C, Op. 59/3 (Razumovsky); String Quartet in E flat, Op. 74 (Harp)

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: String Quartet in C, Op. 59/3 (Razumovsky); String Quartet in E flat, Op. 74 (Harp)
PERFORMER: Turner Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 905252
The Turner Quartet recorded a convention-shattering traversal of Beethoven’s Op. 18 group for Harmonia Mundi’s ‘Les nouveaux interprètes’ series. Here, it tackles the Op. 74 Harp Quartet and the last of the Razumovskys with similarly eruptive forcefulness, in vividly engineered performances which are constantly alive to the structural demands of the music.

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Op. 74 (coupled with Opp. 95 and 135) was recently recorded by the Eroica Quartet, also for Harmonia Mundi. The Turner, though always more urgently incisive, sometimes lacks (as in the mysterious introduction to the first movement) its rival’s tonal sophistication, and perhaps textural subtleties are less fully exploited. More importantly, dynamic and expressive contrasts are heightened and grippingly polarised, so the gravely portentous Adagio shocks after the unqualified optimism and exaltation of the opening Allegro. Also, the six variations of the finale are keenly characterised, completing an unsettlingly prophetic account of one of Beethoven’s most elusive middle-period quartets.

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The C major Razumovsky ‘exalts the victory of tenacity’, writes Brigitte Massin in her booklet note. Beethoven’s sketches for its moto-perpetuo finale were inscribed ‘let your deafness no longer be a secret, even in your art’, and such personal resolve and heroism are also the touchstones of this exceptional reading. There have been many superb recordings of the work; recommendable modern-instrument options include the Cleveland Quartet (Telarc), and the classic (if sonically unrefined) Budapest Quartet coupling (with Op. 74, incidentally), a bargain reissue on Sony Essential Classics. But the Turner is completely unrivalled if you want period instruments and a stylistic approach, and recorded sound is as irresistibly magnetic as the performances themselves. Outstanding. Michael Jameson