BEETHOVEN: String Quartets Nos. 1-6, Op. 18 – Fine Arts Quartet – Lyrinx (3 discs)

by | Feb 27, 2009 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: String Quartets Nos. 1-6, Op. 18 – Fine Arts Quartet – Lyrinx Multichannel SACD 2254 (3 discs), 158:33 *****:

It is wonderful to have so many new recordings by the historically great Fine Arts Quartet. Their Vanguard recordings of the Beethoven cycle were among the most unnoticed and finest around in their time, and now, hot on the heels of their 2003 Mozart Quintets in DSD surround come what I hope is the first installment of another complete cycle of the Beethoven, also in surround. This one sports the usual Fine Arts virtues: classical elegance, muscular rhythmic prowess, and sober, realistically projected stylistic congruence.

You will not find an over-inflated sense of romantic turbulence in these works; yes, many are certainly Haydnesque, but they are never less than pure Beethoven even in their most Esterhazy moments. The Fine Arts seems to understand this, and infuses each quartet with a sense of firm classical structure while letting Beethoven be Beethoven and injecting a certain amount of quirkiness to the readings when called for. There is no Alban Berg Quartet romantic fury here, even in Nos. five and six, two that may most be able to claim a spiritual status more of the middle quartets than the early ones. And the tempestuousness of the popular-during-its-time Fourth quartet is tempered by the Fine Art’s realization that the sturm und drang present in this C-minor work does not constitute full-fledged romanticism, something many quartets do not realize..

There is not the suavity of the Cleveland Quartet’s playing here, nor the burnished old world tone of the Budapest, or even the rich and diverse tonal qualities present in sets by the Vegh and Takacs quartets. What you will find is sumptuous sound in a superb recorded setting that displays these six magnificent works in about as fine a recording as you are likely to hear. Couple the sound with real inspiration and a studied presentation of these pieces, and this is likely to take first place among almost any collection, even those well worn and dotingly familiar. A great job all around.

— Steven Ritter


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