WORKS: String Quartet in B flat, Op. 130; Grosse Fuge, Op. 133
PERFORMER: Kodály Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554593
Few contemporary quartets rival the Petersen’s combination of technical polish and musical insight. As with previous recordings in its slowly evolving Beethoven series, it has a shrewd feeling for the tempo and character of each movement, often approaching the composer’s challengingly fast metronome markings. The crisp, sportive wit of the opening Allegro of the B flat Quartet, Op. 18/6 – Beethoven at his most Haydnesque – is caught to perfection, the rhythms lithe and muscular, the contrapuntal swordplay sharply etched. In the subversive syncopated scherzo the Petersen really goes for broke, with exciting results, though with no let-up for the trio, the prancing dactyls only just avoid sounding scrambled. The urbane G major Quartet is sprucely done, with a delicate, teasing scherzo and a gamesome finale, the players hyper-alert to Beethoven’s gleeful sallies and rapier thrusts. They are no less successful in the more rarefied world of Op. 135, catching the whimsical, abstracted air of the first movement and the lyrical grace as well as the bluff humour of the finale. And at a flowing tempo – again, close to the metronome mark – the Lento assai is just as moving as in broader, more burdened performances.
The Kodály’s Op. 130 evinces all their familiar virtues, including a warm, distinctively central European sonority and cultured phrasing. There is quite a lot to enjoy here, including an eloquent, refreshingly unsentimental Cavatina. But set against such ensembles as the Busch, the Végh, the Quartetto Italiano and the Lindsays, the Kodály can seem too comfortable, insufficiently keen in its responses – above all in the Grosse Fuge, which unfolds doggedly rather than dangerously. Here and elsewhere I wished for more variety of articulation (staccatos, for instance, tend to be too plump), colour and dynamics. No one forking out a fiver here is likely to feel short-changed. But each of the versions mentioned above will bring you closer to Beethoven’s awesome vision. Richard Wigmore