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Beethoven: String Quartets, Vol. 1 - Quartetto di Cremona

Beethoven: String Quartets, Vol. 1 - Quartetto di Cremona

Audite  92.680

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Chamber


Beethoven - String Quartets Op. 18 No. 6, Op. 95, Op. 135

Quartetto di Cremona


During the past ten years the Quartetto di Cremona has matured into a string quartet of international renown, combining the Italian culture of string playing with an awareness of historical performance practice. Having for many years performed at the great international halls, it is often regarded as the successor to the famous Quartetto Italiano. The musical style of the Quartetto di Cremona is marked by a fruitful tension between Italian and German-Austrian influences:

Following their academic studies the players continued their training with Piero Farulli of the Quartetto Italiano. He strongly favoured intuitive playing and a fervent, emotional, romantic and "Italian" approach to music. Afterwards the musicians pursued their studies with Hatto Beyerle of the Alban Berg Quartet who represents a clear, classical, "German-Austrian" style, focusing on faithfulness to the original, form and structure as a basis for musical interpretation and inspiration. Both teachers have left a lasting impression on the quartet and significantly influenced its musical style. The players naturally unite both poles, combining boisterous enthusiasm with a distinct sense for musical architecture, cultivating the fusion of structure and expression, external shape and internal passion.

With the three works contained in Volume 1, the Quartetto di Cremona covers the most important periods of Beethoven's quartet oeuvre. The final of the six Op. 18 Quartets features a mysteriously programmatic dimension in its last movement, "La Malinconia", whereas Op. 95 from Beethoven's middle period is both highly compact yet dramatically gripping. The disc closes with Beethoven's final Quartet, Op. 135, completed in Vienna one year before his death: it differs from his less easily approachable late works in taking on a conciliatory stance.

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Review by John Broggio - March 30, 2013

I've lived with this disc for a while now & try as I might, it is stubbornly refusing to feel loved.

The Quartetto di Cremona all use instruments made in the region of their title, trained in & now teach in the Stauffer Academy (Cremona). Key to their artistic development were extended periods of coaching from Pierro Farulli (Quartetto Italiano) and Hatto Beyerle (Alban Berg Quartet), so it was with some degree of expectations that formed before hearing this disc. In the booklet it is claimed that the Cremona players are "combining the Italian culture of string playing with an awareness of historical performance practice".

The Cremona players offer the works in chronological order and set off with an extremely bustling allegro in the Op. 18 No. 5 immediately highlighting that one aspect of HIP is the apparent need to seat oneself a la Karajan's Berliner Philharmoniker (1, 2, Vc, Va) rather than what Beethoven clearly expected in all his scores of the first violinist being opposite to the second violinist: so much of the dialogue is (at best) without seating in this way & it is a basic lesson of HIP that one would have thought all performers educated since 1970 (like the Cremona players). Apparently not. Another aspect in the first movement which makes me reluctant to return to this disc is the extraordinary "big picture" phrasing: it ends three times. Not one with two statements of pause for reflection, three endings. Beethoven does not ask for or need this movement to be broken into these "mini movements" & on repeated listening it is very grating indeed. Fortunately, the remaining 11 movements on this disc do not allow such aberrations to be heard elsewhere.

The playing itself is technically highly accomplished (although not in the Mandelring league) and generally the Cremona players give out a winningly sunny polish to the scores. One might feel they are a little gruff without varying their attack according to the music they are playing. Thus the closing pizzicato to the slow movement of Op. 18 No. 5 is given the same characteristic tone that is required for Op. 95 (a very exciting rendition indeed). The same rough-hewn character is most likely to be thought inappropriate in the late Op. 135 and, if one turns to favourite recordings on RBCD (like the Busch or Takacs), such is all encompassing nature of their accounts that stereo, hi-res or MCH are hardly missed. Which says it all about the playing here.

Audite's recording is perfectly fine, if a little close to be ideal but should not determine any purchase where competing accounts exist on RBCD that far better portray the varied demands of this music.

SACD will still be waiting a top-notch set of the Beethoven quartets. Is it too early to ask Audite for the Mandelring's to be engaged?

Copyright © 2013 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

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