LABELS: Arte Nova
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven String Quartets
WORKS: String Quartets: in B flat, Op. 18/6; in E flat, Op. 127
PERFORMER: Henschel Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 82876 63996 2
The Henschel have obviously thought deeply about these great works. While the Takács Quartet, for instance, in their otherwise admirable recording for Decca, launches the late Quartet Op. 127 with all guns blazing, the Henschel take due account of the fact that each reprise of the imperious opening chords occurs in a progressively brighter key and more forceful sonority. The slow movement is impressive, too, with a deeplyfelt account of the radiant E major variation that is its poignant heart. In the scherzo Beethoven interjects short passages in which the prevailing triple metre switches to two beats. Like almost every other ensemble, the Henschel keep the beat constant, thereby disregarding the new tempo marking – Allegro, as opposed to the underlying Scherzando vivace. As far as I know, only the Endellion Quartet in their recent Warner recording correctly interpret the duple-metre passages as being slower. But it’s a small point, and the performance as a whole is eminently satisfying.
No less accomplished is Op. 18 No. 6, with the players again not afraid of using portamento for expressive effect. In the slow movement they produce an admirable change of tone-colour, as the music turns mysteriously to the minor; and unlike many of their rivals, they sensibly keep the scherzo’s syncopated accents within its overall piano dynamic. I’ve recently been returning with great pleasure to Amadeus Quartet’s deeply moving 1960s Beethoven recordings. They seem hard to beat, but as a single-disc alternative this newcomer is warmly recommended. Misha Donat