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Beethoven: Late String Quartets (Brodskys)

Brodsky Quartet (Chandos)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
CD_CHAN20114_Beethoven

Beethoven
Late String Quartets:
No. 11 in F minor, Op. 95 ‘Serioso’; No. 12 in E flat, Op. 127; No. 13 in B flat, Op. 130; No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 131; No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132; No. 16 in F, Op. 135; Grosse Fuge, Op. 133
Brodsky Quartet
Chandos CHAN 20114(3)   230:13 mins (3 discs)

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These are performances on the largest scale. No doubt Chandos’s favouring of an immense acoustic for the recording has a lot to do with it, but although of course only four instruments are playing, you have to remind yourself that you’re not listening to a symphony orchestra. That is very imposing, but there are times when the intimacy of the works is lost, and though the scale of Beethoven’s inspiration throughout is on the grandest level, I sometimes wished for a more confidential approach.

This set actually begins with the ‘Serioso’ Quartet, Op. 95, and you immediately get the scale on which the Brodsky Quartet are playing in this brief, aggressive, intense work. You also realise that though this work was written in the middle of Beethoven’s life, he was already composing with the audacity that characterises the works he wrote in his last few years. Several of them are double the length of Op. 95, and they feel it, especially when delivered with such unrelieved fervour.

I have found, so far, that these renderings impress me rather than, as is more usually the case with these works, move me, but I shall certainly listen to them again and often, because I am struck by the sheer energy and belief that goes into the playing. The slow movement of Op. 132 for instance, the ‘Holy Song of Thanksgiving’, normally a movement I find less impressive than it is clearly meant to be, here comes across with fanatical dedication. The Brodskys manage to keep that up all the time; so far, as a listener to these performances, I haven’t been able to match them.

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Michael Tanner