WORKS: String Quintets: in C, Op. 29; in C minor, Op. 104; Fugue in D, Op. 137
PERFORMER: Gil Sharon (viola); Fine Arts Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572221
There are no obvious reasons for the relative neglect of the C major String Quintet Op. 29, particularly when you consider that it’s probably the most significant chamber work Beethoven composed in the period between the Op. 18 and Razumovsky string quartets.
To blame its rare occurrence in concert hall and on disc on the instrumentation seems specious, since the composer was merely following Mozart in augmenting the conventional string quartet with an extra viola part. Furthermore there’s little doubt that Beethoven is working at the height of his powers here, balancing the gloriously lyrical melodies of the first two movements with vibrancy and dynamism in the scherzo and finale.
After a somewhat tentative start with a few untidy moments of coordination in the triplet passagework, the enlarged Fine Arts Quartet delivers a strongly committed performance of this work, supported by a beautifully balanced but clear recording. They are particularly admirable in the finale, relishing the music’s sudden bursts of aggression as well as its moments of outrageous humour where the composer seems to be poking fun at Rossini.
Although the Op. 104 Quintet was published 16 years after Op. 29, it is in fact Beethoven’s reworking of the early Op. 1 No. 3 C minor Piano Trio. Even the most fanatical of the composer’s admirers tend to dismiss this arrangement as adding little of substance to the original, but the powerful and expansive interpretation from the Fine Arts Quartet presents it in an entirely new light, adding a mature and surprisingly sober reflection to its characteristically brusque and youthful energy. Erik Levi