BEETHOVEN: Complete String Quartets Vol. II: Op. 59 No. 2 and Op. 127 = Quartetto di Cremona – Audite

BEETHOVEN: Complete String Quartets Vol. II: Op. 59 No. 2 and Op. 127 = Quartetto di Cremona (Cristiano Gualco, Paolo Andreoli, Simone Gramaglia, Giovanni Scaglione) – Audite multichannel SACD 92.681 B, 69:42 [10-19-13] [Distr. by Naxos] *****: 

I missed Quartetto di Cremona’s first installment in their complete Beethoven cycle comprising Op. 18 No. 3, Op. 95 and Op. 135, but after hearing Volume II I will not miss another.

Although these four young musicians from Genoa do not play Cremona instruments exclusively–they play violins by iconic Cremonense makers Guarneri del Gesu (1737) and Giovanni Battista Guadagnini (1757), a viola by a young Cremonense named Pietro Gargini (1995) and a 1975 cello by outlier Marino Capicchioni who was based in Rimini–their performances of two key Beethoven quartets are the kind of fascinating, illuminating studies you would expect from a keenly analytical Italian quartet working with beloved Italian instruments.

In the hands of the Quartetto di Cremona, formed in 2000, the extraordinary range of similarities and differences of their four instrument’s colors, shades, textures and tone reveal the subtle, moving complexities of Beethoven’s increasingly inner dialogue. That, plus their stunning intonation, superb chording and 3D voicing, the detailed recording (with added presence in SACD mode), makes their second Razumovsky a model of Italian classical music engineering.

There are special moments throughout. The Quartetto opens Op. 59 No. 2 starkly, black and white, lots of white space; the chords are disconnected from the epigrammatic melodic gestures; the Quartetto’s quick, fiery accents cause the music to veer addictively between cold hard steel and sweetly lyrical, unexpected innocence. The hushed tone with which they proceed after the double bar, reaching and stretching for tension and climax, then letting it expand into resolution, requires an integrity and identity if they are to stand firm against the commotion. Their relaxed Molto Adagio is followed by a deftly swift Allegretto and a Finale rich in the music’s ethereal tendrils as much as its energy.

In the first movement of Op. 127, the Quartetto struggles bravely to hold their own against the music’s titanic demands for structure and coherency; by the time they have made it to the six elaborate variations of the 14-minute Adagio, however, they are ready to showcase how to breathe feeling into the soul of this emotionally involved music as if they themselves were being overcome and seduced by Beethoven’s enormous charm.

The fine recordings were made during three days of sessions at the Fondazione Spinola Banna per l’Arte in Poirino, near Turin.

– Laurence Vittes

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