Beethoven – The Late Quartets
Calidore String Quartet (Signum Classics)
The Late Quartets Nos 12-16
Calidore String Quartet
Signum Classics SIGCD733 203:43 mins (3 discs)
The New York-based Calidore Quartet gives meticulously detailed performances of Beethoven’s late string quartets, with playing of quite remarkable technical accomplishment: I’m not sure, for instance, that I’ve ever heard the tremendously challenging Op. 133 Fugue (the original finale of the Quartet Op. 130) done with greater precision and clarity, and it makes for a quite overwhelming experience. Elsewhere in these life-affirming works, the Calidore players penetrate right to the heart of the music, giving warm and intensely lyrical accounts in particular of the variation slow movements that form the expressive heart of nearly all the quartets, and of the famous ‘Cavatina’ from Op. 130 which reportedly reduced Beethoven himself to tears.
One or two of the quicker movements find the Calidore Quartet perhaps a little over-cautious: it’s true that Beethoven’s intricate ‘hairpin’ dynamic markings in the Alla danza tedesca movement of the Quartet Op. 130 make a really fast speed impracticable, but the music still needs to sound lighter and more dance-like than it does here; and it’s possible to feel that the march which launches the penultimate movement of the A minor Quartet Op. 132 could do with greater impetus and momentum. On the other hand, the minor-mode middle section of the scherzo in Op. 127 goes by like a whirlwind – more of a prestissimo than Beethoven’s plain prestomarking. But the players have clearly thought long and hard about these masterpieces of the string quartet repertoire, and they have produced performances that can stand comparison with the best.