Beethoven: String Quartet, Op. 127 (arr. Perahia); Piano Sonata in A, Op. 101

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
WORKS: String Quartet, Op. 127 (arr. Perahia); Piano Sonata in A, Op. 101
PERFORMER: Academy of St Martin in the Fields/ Murray Perahia (piano)
There have been sporadic performances of Beethoven string quartets by orchestral forces ever since the 1880s, when Hans von Bülow conducted the famous Meiningen court orchestra in the Grosse Fuge. Murray Perahia would be the last person to suggest that his version of Op. 127 is any way a substitute for the original, but he was attracted to the idea of having it played by a larger body of strings because he felt the opening chords sounded grander that way. Well, yes and no: they’re undeniably more sonorous, but paradoxically they sound more imposing in their chamber setting, which deliberately strains against the medium. For the rest, this is a largely intimate work, and one that inevitably sounds over-inflated in orchestral guise. And for all the skill of the ECO players, the transcription throws up serious intonation problems in some of the high-lying violin passages – the scherzo’s trio, and the coda of the finale, for instance. The late Beethoven piano sonatas are new territory for Perahia, but you’d never guess it from his performance of Op. 101 – interpretatively perhaps the hardest of them all. Tempos are perfectly judged throughout, and Perahia’s playing has an admirably unselfconscious expressive quality. Let’s hope this marks the start of a series. Misha Donat