Beethoven, Bartok

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bartok,Beethoven
WORKS: String Quartet in F, Op. 59/1 (Rasumovsky)
PERFORMER: Vogler Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 61185-2 DDD
Beethoven’s first Rasumovsky Quartet and Schoenberg’s Quartet No. 2 were in many ways the most revolutionary chamber works of their respective centuries. The Beethoven expanded the quartet form to unprecedented dimensions; and the kaleidoscopically shifting moods of its Scherzo, combined with its obsessively repeated rhythmic patterns led one contemporary commentator to describe the piece as ‘patchwork by a madman’. As for the Schoenberg, it was with its finale (where the soprano enters with Stefan George’s now famous words, ‘I feel air from another planet’) that he finally severed all links with traditional tonality.

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The Borodin Quartet give a decent, if rather safe, performance of the Schoenberg, but they are badly let down by their soprano – an insecure singer without even a rudimentary knowledge of German pronunciation. The Haydn and Beethoven – recorded more than twenty years ago – are extraordinarily laboured and four-square. Not even Haydn’s helter-skelter finale can give the players lift-off, while the Beethoven betrays no discernible trace of emotional involvement. The disc comes with a biographical note on the Borodin Quartet – nothing on the soprano, no notes on the music, and no texts for Schoenberg’s vocal movements.

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The Vogler Quartet’s disc is another matter altogether. The opening movement of their Rasumovsky is perhaps just a shade too leisurely: such moments as the onset of the recapitulation need to generate more tension, and at this pace the central development doesn’t quite cohere. The remainder of the performance, though, is very fine indeed, and these players’ Bartók is among the most musical and lucid I have heard. With a fine recording, the disc is recommended to anyone attracted by this pairing of works. Misha Donat