BEETHOVEN: The Six String Quartets, Op. 18 – The Miro Quartet – Vanguard

by | Dec 16, 2005 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: The Six String Quartets, Op. 18 – The Miro Quartet – Vanguard ATM CD 1655, 76:29; 75:02 ****:

Beethoven’s Op. 18 Quartets (1798-1799) may well represent his first complete assimilation and conquest of the Viennese style. They take the experiments of the early piano sonatas and synthesize their “control over bold harmonic action” into concise, predetermined forms; and even so, they remain “more Beethoven than quartet.” The composer already reveals those melodic and harmonic tendencies which expand and transform traditional structures. The fugato in the A Major Quartet, Op. 18, No. 5, with its concertante cello, exhibits a new freedom of expression within highly regimented means. The demonic concision of the C Minor Quartet, whatever its debts to Haydn–as the A Major bows in reverence to Mozart‚s K. 464–urges a powerful individuality upon the world of traditional chamber music. Taken together, Op. 18 emanates “care and industry and high seriousness,” to quote Joseph Kerman.

The Miro Quartet renders each of the six quartets with fine-honed accuracy, an easy grace of execution, and a thoroughly integrated idiomatic sense of style. Everything about the Vanguard production generates a youthful aura, from the engaging ensemble to the somewhat condescending quality of the liner notes, a bit too hip for my taste. But the virtuosic elan and exhilaration in performance are everywhere evident, a palpable excitement of musical discovery. The B-flat Quartet,. Op. 18, No. 6, exudes an earthy confidence which quite enthralls us. The lines unfold with such seamless facility that we find ourselves in the throes of the Adagio ma non troppo without quite understanding how we came there. Daniel Ching’s violin weaves a plaintive song with viola John Largess and cello Joshua Gindele, then the eerie harmonies remove our attention from the mortal players. La Malinconia suggests both the composer’s oncoming mental turmoil with his deafness and a world fraught with spiritual upheaval. Recorded October 7-22, 2004 at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, with masterful engineering and production by Da-Hong Seetoo, the performances make consistently vivid impressions with each rehearing.

One caveat: neither the liner notes nor the packaging provides the total times of the CDs nor the timings for the individual movements.

–Gary Lemco

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