Beethoven

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Wigmore Hall Live
WORKS: String Quartets: in C minor, Op. 18/4; in E, Op. 74; in B flat, Op. 130; Grosse Fuge Op. 133
PERFORMER: Elias Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: WHLive 0073/2

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The youthful Elias Quartet played the whole series of Beethoven’s string quartets at the Wigmore Hall last year, and this first disc shows the pattern of their programming: one of the Op. 18 Quartets, followed by one from the so-called middle period, and finally one of the last quartets, the pinnacle of the repertoire. I didn’t enjoy this initial instalment at all, and for that I suspect both the performances and the recording are to blame. Everything seems over-projected. Op. 18 No. 4, the last to be composed of the Op. 18 set, may be in Beethoven’s barnstorming key of C minor, but the Elias Quartet seem intent on making it into a ferocious work from a decade later. When they aren’t on the attack they indulge in what I find to be an oppressively over-intense mode, of which the most egregious case is the Cavatina in the Op. 130 Quartet. This movement, which the composer couldn’t think of without tears, certainly needs playing of great inwardness, but the Elias treat it to many ‘expressive’ bulges of tone, pleading for a moved response, altogether too overt. Rightly, they follow it with the Grosse Fuge, Beethoven’s most rebarbative movement, but here their tone becomes unpleasantly strident.

It may be that their emphatic style was exacerbated by the closeness of the miking, but it makes, whatever one does with the controls, for unpleasant listening. When everything is so hyper-intense, you begin to wonder whether they really mean it or are faking it.

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Michael Tanner