Beethoven: String Quartets Op. 95, 127, 130, 131, 132, 135; Grosse Fugue Op. 133

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven String Quartets
WORKS: String Quartets Op. 95, 127, 130, 131, 132, 135; Grosse Fugue Op. 133
PERFORMER: Takacs Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 470 849-2
one approaches any new

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recording of Beethoven’s late

quartets with such high expectations

that it feels like a minor miracle

if a performance lives up to them

even half the time. There were

a few moments during Op. 127

where I wondered if the Tak‡cs

couldn’t have made a little more

of this phrase or that detail. But

what matters most is the overall

impression, and I’ve rarely heard a

version of this Quartet where there

was such a magisterial inevitability

about the ending; after that you’d

have to be really mean-spirited to

carp about minutiae. Then comes

Op. 131, and right from the first

phrase – full of contained feeling,

the climactic accent beautifully

judged – you know this is going to

be a great performance. If the Takács

makes less of the first movement

climax than some ensembles, that’s

only because it so clearly sees this as

the first stage in a long journey – a

process that isn’t complete until the

brusque final chords.

Time after time the Takács seems

to get things just right: rhythms taut

and muscular but also capable of

expressive freedom; tempos spacious

enough in the slow movements of

Opp. 132 and 135 without being

too reverentially slow (though

watch out for a tiny harmonic

surprise near the end of the latter

– a new reading?). And each work

is clearly conceived whole, even the

enigmatic Op. 95 – chronologically

not a ‘late’ quartet, but so close in spirit that its inclusion here also

feels just right. Excellent recordings,

too: sonorous, and with well-judged

sense of four-voices-in-one. It

doesn’t feel at all risky to say that this is probably the finest modern set

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of these great quartets. Stephen Johnson