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BEETHOVEN - The String Quartets - 10CD Set

BEETHOVEN - The String Quartets - 10CD Set

Catalog Number: NCA60139-320
Label: New Classical Adventure
Format: CD

Available: 0
Price: $79.99

Categories: Chamber Music
Classical Periods: Romantic

Composers: Ludwig van Beethoven
Performers: Gewandhaus-Quartett

Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)

The String Quartets

Gewandhaus-Quartett

Award Winning Recording of 10 CD's with 97 page booklet of notes

String Quartet OP. 18 No. 1-6
String Quartet OP. 59 No. 1-3
String Quartet in E Flat Major OP. 74 ('Harp Quartet')
String Quartet in F Minor OP. 95
String Quartets OP 127, 130, 131, 132, 135
Great Fugue in B Flat Major OP. 133
String Quartet in F Major after the piano sonata in E Major OP. 14 No. 1

Former members of the Gewandhaus-Quartet in conversation with Martin Hoffmeister (Including audio examples)

Dear friends of the Gewandhaus-Quartett!

We are both proud - and happy - to be able to present you with the first complete recording of Beethoven's string quartets - as preformed by the Gewandhaus-Quartett.

On the tenth CD I would like to give you the opportunity of becoming familiar with the styles of interpretation of Bethoven employed by the earlier Gewandhaus-Quartett line-ups.
One of the oldest recordings in existence of this ensemble dates from the year 1916. The Gewandhasu-Quartett of that time performed Beethoven's String Quartet in C sharp major, op. 131 in the line-up of Edgar Wallgandt and Karl Wolschke (violins), Carl Herrmann (viola) and the unforgotten Julius Klengel (violoncello). We would like to thank the 'Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk' (MDR / Central German Broadcasting Corporation) for putting a copy of the digital processing of the original shellac disc at our disposal.
Furthermore, recordings of Beethoven are to be heard performed by the Gewandhaus-Quartett from the year 1968, with the primarius Gerhard Bosse - as well as recordings from the year 1985, with the quartet line-up formed around the primarius Karl Suske. In this case we would like to send out 'many thanks' to the management of the Gewandhaus - for putting this live recording, made in the Mendelssohn Hall of the Gewandhaus in Leipzig, at our disposal.
Between the examples of music, interviews with former members of the quartet should help to give an insight into their personal views - and into the specific styles of interpretation used by the Gewandhaus-Quartett during the course of the previous century. These interviews feature recordings of Martin Hoffmeister (a journalist with MDR) in conversation with Gerhard Bosse (primarius from 1955 to 1977), Karl Suske (primarius from 1977 to 1993) and Dietmar Hallmann (viola from 1959 to 1993).
In addition, out recording of the Piano Sonata op, 14 No. 1, which was transcribed for string quartet by the highly esteemed Beethoven himself, is also to be heard on this CD.
I wish you the greatest of pleasure while listening to these sound recordings - yours, most sincerely,

Frank-Michael Erden

Track ListingTimeMP3
CD One
String Quartett in F major op. 18 No. 1
1Allegro con brio
2Adagio affettuoso ed appassionato
3Scherzo: Allegro moltoBEETHOVEN - The String Quartets - 10CD Set - Scherzo: Allegro molto
4Allegro
String Quartett in G major op. 18 No. 2
5Allegro
6Adagio cantabileBEETHOVEN - The String Quartets - 10CD Set - Adagio cantabile
7Sherzo: Allegro
8Allegro molto, quasi Presto
CD Two
String Quartett in D major op. 18 No. 3
1Allegro
2Andante con moto
3Allegro
4PrestoBEETHOVEN - The String Quartets - 10CD Set - Presto
String Quartett in C Minor op. 18 No. 4
5Allegro ma mon tanto
6Scherzo: Andante scherzoso quasi Allegretto
7Menuetto: Allegretto
8AllegroBEETHOVEN - The String Quartets - 10CD Set - Allegro
CD Three
String Quartet in A Major op. 18 No. 5
1Allegro
2Menuetto
3Andante Cantabile
4AllegroBEETHOVEN - The String Quartets - 10CD Set - Allegro
String Quartet in B Flat Major op. 18 No. 6
5Allegro con Brio
6Adagio, Ma non Troppo
7Scherzo: Allegro
8La Malinconia: Adagio - Allegretto Quasi AllegroBEETHOVEN - The String Quartets - 10CD Set - La Malinconia: Adagio - Allegretto Quasi Allegro
CD Four
String Quartet in F Major op 59 No. 1
1Allegro
2Allegretto Vivave E Sempre ScherandoBEETHOVEN - The String Quartets - 10CD Set - Allegretto Vivave E Sempre Scherando
3Adagio Molto E Mesto
4Finale (Thème Russe): AllegroBEETHOVEN - The String Quartets - 10CD Set - Finale (Thème Russe): Allegro
CD Five
String Quartet in E Minor op. 59 No. 2
1Allegro
2Molto Adagio
3Allegretto
4Finale: PrestoBEETHOVEN - The String Quartets - 10CD Set - Finale: Presto
String Quartet in E Flat Major Op. 74 ('Harp Quartet')
5Poco Adagio - Allegro
6Adagio Ma non Troppo
7Presto
8Allegretto Con VariazioniBEETHOVEN - The String Quartets - 10CD Set - Allegretto Con Variazioni
CD Six
String Quartet in C Major op 59 No. 3
1Introduzione: Andante Con Moto - Allegro Vivace
2Andante con moto Quasi Allegretto
3Menuetto: Grazioso
4Allegro MoltoBEETHOVEN - The String Quartets - 10CD Set - Allegro Molto
String Quartet in F Minor op. 95
5Allegro con Brio
6Allegretto, ma non troppo
7Allegro Assai Vivace, Ma Serioso
8Lagrhetto Espressivo - Allegretto AgitatoBEETHOVEN - The String Quartets - 10CD Set - Lagrhetto Espressivo - Allegretto Agitato
CD Seven
String Quartet in E Flat Major op. 127
1Maestoso - Allegro
2Adagio, Ma non Troppo E Troppo E Molto Cantabile
3Scherzando VivaceBEETHOVEN - The String Quartets - 10CD Set - Scherzando Vivace
4Finale
String Quartet in C Sharp Minor op. 131
5Adagio ma no Troppe E Espressivo
6Allegro Molto VivaceBEETHOVEN - The String Quartets - 10CD Set - Allegro Molto Vivace
7Allegro Moderato
8Andante ma non Troppo E Molto Cantabile
9PrestoBEETHOVEN - The String Quartets - 10CD Set - Presto
10Adagio Quasi un Poco Andante
11Allegro
CD Eight
String Quartet in B Flat Major op. 130
1Adagio ma non Troppo - Allegro
2PrestoBEETHOVEN - The String Quartets - 10CD Set - Presto
3Andante con Moto, ma non Troppo
4Alla Danza Tedesca: Allegro AssaiBEETHOVEN - The String Quartets - 10CD Set - Alla Danza Tedesca: Allegro Assai
5Cavatina: Adagio Molto Espressivo
6Finale: AllegroBEETHOVEN - The String Quartets - 10CD Set - Finale: Allegro
7Great Fugue in B Flat op. 133
CD Nine
String Quartet in A Minor op. 132
1Assai Sostenuto - Allegro
2Allegro ma non Tanto
3Molto AdagioBEETHOVEN - The String Quartets - 10CD Set - Molto Adagio
4Alla Marcia, Assai Vivace
5Più Allegro - Allegro Appassionato
String Quartet in F Major op. 135
6AllegrettoBEETHOVEN - The String Quartets - 10CD Set - Allegretto
7Vivace
8Lento Assai, Cantante E Tranquillo
9"Der Schwer Gefeßte Entschluß"BEETHOVEN - The String Quartets - 10CD Set - "Der Schwer GefeÃte EntschluÃ"
CD Ten
1(1-11) Former Members of the Gewandhaus-Quartett in Converstaion with Martin Hoffemeister
Stringe Quartet in F Major after the Piano Sonata in E Major op. 14 No. 1
12Allegro ModeratoBEETHOVEN - The String Quartets - 10CD Set - Allegro Moderato
13Allegretto
14Allegro

Klassik Heute Critics Award Best Release March 2004

Any new release of a complete Beethoven quartet cycle is an event worthy of note. The canon of 16 string quartets, plus the Grosse Fuge, comprises perhaps the single most profound and significant musical contribution to Western Civilization. This writer is not alone in considering them Beethoven's greatest works, and quite possibly the greatest and most important musical works of all time. J. W. N. Sullivan posits in his book, Beethoven, His Spiritual Development, that it was the medium of the string quartet, more than any other, through which Beethoven was allowed, if only briefly, to gaze upon the face of God, and in that moment to reveal to us, if only fleetingly, a cosmic vision of mankind and his place in the universe. Sullivan was a child of the Romantic era, and his argument may not resonate in an age of deepening cynicism and distrust. Yet it cannot be denied that there are moments, especially in the middle and late quartets that emerge unexpectedly from the most puzzling passages with a sudden sense of revelatory clarity. Others, too, have noted an inner radiance or luminosity emanating from these works that seems to impart to them an otherworldly quality. Empirical evidence would suggest that the effect derives from the unusual way in which Beethoven spaces the four voices, often separating them by several octaves and leaving wide gaps between them, and from a new conversational freedom and independence among them. Neither Haydn nor Mozart, the major quartet writers before Beethoven, deployed the instruments in this way; and few if any composers after Beethoven would attempt to duplicate his unique sound world.
The question that continues to intrigue, after having known these quartets (and having played most of them) for almost my whole life, is why? Not why is the music so special-I think I know the answer to that-but why was it Beethoven, of all composers, who received the calling? He was not preternaturally inclined to the medium. His muse, at least early on, leaned towards that of the grand, if not grandiloquent, public orator, the composer of large-scale symphonic and orchestral scores. His first set of six string quartets, op. 18, were obligatory, a way of introducing himself to Viennese society and of ingratiating himself with Haydn, much as Mozart had done with his own six quartets dedicated to the elder master. That Haydn was rather taken aback at the boldness and audacity of these early essays is hardly surprising, for Beethoven's vision of what a string quartet was and might be had already surpassed anything Haydn himself had imagined.
Still, I have always wondered, would Beethoven have returned to the medium years later of his own volition to explore it further had not fate intervened? I suspect that if you had said to him, "Ludwig, you will some day produce string quartets of the most transcendent beauty, and among all of your children, they shall be your most enduring legacy," he would have scoffed at you. I do not think he could have foreseen that deafness and a confluence of events would ordain that the string quartets become his final will and greatest testament.
Beethoven's string quartets have remained staples of the literature from the time they were written. Despite critical outcry and public dismay, they were played by respected ensembles and musicians even while Beethoven was still alive, and modern recordings of the complete cycle are legion in number. Some sense of it all I think can be made, however, by dividing the recordings into general categories, for which I will cite examples, and then reveal my own preferred versions.
(1) The Smooth Operators. Into this group fall ensembles that play with fullness and roundness of tone, that adopt tempos a bit on the slowish but not sluggish side, and generally take a more cautious approach to some of Beethoven's more audacious moments. The overall effect is to smooth out the rough edges and round off the sharp corners. In such performances, the quartets, especially the early ones, do not sound as far removed from Haydn as they can seem in more impetuous hands. I don't always want my Beethoven served this way, but when I do, the group I turn to most often is the wonderful Quartetto Italiano, whose mid-1970s recordings on Philips may be available in mid- or budget-priced releases, if you can find them. Another group I place into this category is the Guarneri Quartet, which recorded the cycle twice, once for RCA and once for Philips. Their earlier run-through, on LP, was my first purchase of the complete cycle, but even before that I had been introduced to a handful of the quartets by the mono LP Budapest Quartet recordings, which I thought were wonderful. Their later stereo remake, after a change in personnel, was not as good, I thought. One expects to have a special fondness for one's first recordings, but in the case of the Guarneri I don't. Technically, I think their second traversal on Philips from the mid 1990s was an improvement, but I still find something in their playing that doesn't quite gel.
(2) The Clean and Clinical. When the Emerson Quartet released their complete cycle a few years ago, I was very excited. In some ways, I think this is the finest string quartet on the scene today. At least in terms of technical spit and ensemble polish, few others can match them. So I had very high hopes for their Beethoven cycle. Though I can't really say I was disappointed, neither was I enthralled. Something about their playing-maybe the fact that it is so clean and perfect-in music that is anything but clean and perfect, left me feeling emotionally disengaged. I return to this set often, just for the thrill of hearing four musicians in peak form; and though I find the emotional temperature a bit on the cool side, I am still able to rate it as one of the very best. Also in this category I would include the Berg Quartet. My sense is that this estimable ensemble was once more highly regarded than it is today. Perhaps age has taken its toll, or perhaps the group was always overestimated. However, this much I can tell you: the playing is solid, some of the best this group would turn out, but EMI captured these performances up close in a dry, boxy-sounding acoustic that is not very appealing. Without too much hedging, I think I could also include under this tent cycles from the Tokyo and Vermeer Quartets. (3) The Derring-Do. These are the groups that pull out all the stops, that forge full speed ahead, that want you to hear just how radical and revolutionary Beethoven was. Instead of smoothing out the sharp edges, they revel in accentuating and emphasizing them. This is not a bad thing-as long as it doesn't turn raw and abrasive-for Beethoven truly was music's great revolutionary. Though not yet complete, the new cycle from the Takács Quartet is shaping up to fall into this category, and what I've heard of it so far really impresses me. The brand new cycle at hand from the Gewandhaus-Quartett also strikes me as fitting into this category, and I shall have more words to say about this below.
I suppose, if I were so inclined, I could spark a Fanfare family feud by including another category for the Unruly and the Untuned. But out of deference to one of my colleagues who does not consider accurate intonation an essential requirement, I won't go there, and the group in question shall remain unnamed.
(4) Critic's Choice. Two cycles take pride of place in my collection. One is mainstream, the other not so well known. The mainstream choice is the now disbanded Cleveland Quartet, available at midprice on Telarc. At its peak, this group approached the technical perfection of the Emersons, and for an all-around satisfying survey-topnotch playing, emotional engagement, and superb recording-this would have to be my current top recommendation. I am also partial, however, to a group called the Suske Quartet (its first violinist Karl Suske was also first violinist of the Gewandhaus in 1985). Exactly where I got these CDs from, I have no recollection, but they are Japanese pressings of Deutsche Schallplatten releases, with not a single word in English. I am quite certain, however, that I have seen this same set advertised on one or another European label, so I know they are still available and can undoubtedly be obtained via mail order. If you have heard and like the Talich Quartet cycle, highly regarded in some quarters, you will love the Suske. They really probe Beethoven's heart and soul, and I think they are more secure technically than the Talich.
Finally, we come to the Gewandhaus-Quartett under review. I placed it above in the category of the Derring-Do, and indeed it is. At first, I was a bit taken aback at what struck me as faster than normal tempos-even in slow movements where I would prefer greater expansiveness-and by very pointed accents and sharp contrasts in dynamics and articulation. When Beethoven says sfz, the Gewandhaus takes him at his word. Nor does it shy away from telling us that Beethoven's "transitions" are often not transitions at all but stops, starts, and lurches.
This all took some getting used to, but the more I listened the more convinced I was that the Gewandhaus members were on to something. The truth is that Beethoven's writing is not always pretty or without its warts; but as artists throughout the ages have shown us, there can be great nobility and beauty in portraying the ugly. Having said that, I do not wish to convey even the slightest hint that there is anything ugly in the Gewandhaus's playing. Technical command is not absolutely perfect (at some of the tempos they adopt, how could it be?), but it is never less than very good, and their ensemble balance is superb. The recording, too, is particularly fine. The engineers have captured the players fairly close up, but there is sufficient air and space around them to give an ample three-dimensional perspective.
Much care has gone into the producing of this set. It is packaged in a large, book-sized box that contains two heavy-duty fold-open cardboard sleeves that hold the individual CDs. The beautifully printed 95-page booklet, containing lots of glossy photos and reproductions, also has a running chronology in the margins that shows year by year important chamber works for strings, post-Beethoven. The Gewandhaus-Quartett has a very long and distinguished history, dating back to the 1830s, when Ferdinand David (of Mendelssohn fame) took over as the group's first violin. Obviously, there have been several turnovers in personnel since then.
The 10th CD in the set may be more useful to some than to others. It includes excerpts from a number of the Beethoven quartets, some in very early recordings by previous generations of the Gewandhaus-Quartett that frankly sound like the technology used to capture them must have been a length of string and two tin cans. Complementing these tracks are spoken conversations with former members of the Gewandhaus-Quartett and a Martin Hoffmeister-all very erudite I am sure, if one happens to understand German. Too bad this is not a DVD, where one can select the language of preference.
I would probably not recommend this as a first or only version of the Beethoven string quartets, but if you know these works well and are looking for an alternative that will get your adrenaline flowing, this may be just what the doctor ordered. NCA (New Classical Adventure) is a label that is distributed in the US by Premiere Music Distributors.
Jerry Dubins, Fanfare January 2005