Beethoven String Quartet No. 6 in B flat, Op.18; String Quartet No. 8 in E minor, Op. 59 No. 2 (Rasumovsky No. 2); String Quartet No. 16 in F, Op. 135
Elias String Quartet
Wigmore Hall Live WHLive0093/2 102:04 mins (2 discs)
There’s no danger here of familiarity breeding contempt. Recorded in 2015, this sixth and final volume of the Elias String Quartet’s admirable Beethoven cycle comfortably matches the exulted qualities of earlier releases. As before, the two-disc set features one of the Op. 18 quartets, a mid-period work and one of the late masterpieces to create an exquisitely balanced programme in itself. Inevitably, perhaps, the set concludes with Beethoven’s last statement in the genre, Op. 135, as well as the concluding quartet of Op. 18, while the second Razumovsky Quartet forms the centrepiece.
There is painstaking attention to detail, yet these live performances burst with spontaneity. Passages of transcendent lyricism abound, the Adagio of Op. 18 No. 6 and the great slow movement of the second Rasumovsky Quartet being imbued with a sublime fluidity rare in modern performances. The pacing of key moments, such as the existential musing that starts the final movement of Op. 135, manages to produce delightfully fresh nuance while remaining natural and avoiding mannerism. Most striking, though, is the visceral excitement the Elias bring page after page, with passion and intensity of expression to the fore. There is nothing prim, polite or insipidly nice in these performances, whether pushing forward breathlessly at the end of Op. 59 No. 2 or sustaining the heartfelt emotion of the final quartet’s Lento assai in a barely moving hush. The Elias enable Beethoven’s radical modernity to be heard afresh, this disc capping a cycle that takes a deserved place among the finest on disc.