Beethoven, Alvarez, Beamish, Firsova, Jegede, Smirnov & Tanaka

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Alvarez,Beamish,Beethoven,Firsova,Jegede,Smirnov & Tanaka
LABELS: Vanguard
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Brodsky Quartet Beethoven
WORKS: String Quartets, Op. 18
PERFORMER: Brodsky Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 99212
Clever programming, to commission six short works, each of which reflects, fascinatingly, and quite differently, on one of Beethoven’s Op. 18 Quartets: from the Mexican urban dance music of Alvarez, through Tanaka’s simple series of modulations and Beamish’s American-inspired fragmentation, to Firsova’s moving treatment of ‘La malincolia’ from Op. 18/6. But these CDs also remind us that, as the music of the past recedes with the passing of time, it’s harder to inhabit its sensibilities. Certainly, the Brodsky is temperamentally better in tune with the new quartets, though there are many good things in the Beethoven as well. The First Quartet begins with an attractive freshness, as if to say ‘this is the beginning’, and the whole of the first movement has tight rhythmic control as well as an acute sense of phrasing, dynamics and balance. In the slow movement, there’s a sensitive use of different types of vibrato to characterise the music, but then things become sluggish, and don’t recover until the fleet finale of the Second Quartet. Best of all are the Third Quartet – where the essentially lyrical character of the first three movements is nicely contrasted with the final presto – and the Fifth, with its energetic outer allegros. Would that that energy had found its way into the first movement of the Fourth Quartet, which doesn’t seethe below the surface as it ought. Better turn to the Lindsays, who have a superior feel for overall shape, a more subtle sense of rubato, take more risks and reap greater rewards. Martin Cotton

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