Beethoven: String Quartet in C, Op. 59/3 (Razumovsky); String Quartet in E flat, Op. 127

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: String Quartet in C, Op. 59/3 (Razumovsky); String Quartet in E flat, Op. 127
PERFORMER: Kodály Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 8.550563
Perverse logic occasionally finds critics waxing lyrical over mediocre full-price issues from glitzy labels, when they’ll happily rubbish exceptional budget discs like this one. Some, understandably, may have fought shy of ranking the Kodály Quartet’s discography beside fabled Busch, Végh, Talich, Cleveland and Tokyo Quartet recordings solely on the basis of their indispensable Haydn survey for Naxos, but now, all that must change.

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The Kodály’s playing throughout the last of the Razumovsky trilogy, Op. 59/3 in C, is spellbinding. There’s an Olympian breadth and intensity here, nowhere more palpable than in the dissonant, mysterious suspensions of the slow preface to the opening movement. First violinist Attila Falvay is fully the equal of the Cleveland’s William Preucil, often sounding more empathetic and natural during bravura passages of the main Allegro. The A minor Andante is beautifully inflected, and the consciously ‘old-fashioned’ minuet’s repetitive gait deliciously sprung. The finale, a virtuoso tour de force, is held in check at a slightly slower pace than some have dared, but it’s the Kodály which proves Mahler’s dictum – the fastest admissible tempo is that which allows all the notes to be heard.

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Op. 127 is a triumph for these players. Here’s a performance as sublime and magisterial as any in the catalogues, finer, even, than my original benchmark recommendation from the Tokyo Quartet on RCA. The Naxos recording is among the best I’ve heard from this source, with a warmth and bloom that matches Telarc’s fine engineering for the Clevelanders. Another extraordinary achievement for the super-bargain label.