Beethoven’s String Quartets
I must admit I always found the category of the string quartets one of the most intellectually challenging, but at the same time, also one of the most rewarding categories in classical music.
I, like many started out my classical journey with symphonic music, and, coming from the piano as a (lousy) amateur myself, with solo piano music.
I had an easier access to chamber works with a piano in it, e.g. trios, violin sonatas. But the string quartet really seemed to me the most daunting works to approach.
That said, there are worse works to start your exploration than Beethoven’s Rasumovsky quartets, officially known as op. 59. These are the works of a Beethoven in a great phase, contemporary of the 4th symphony and the violin concerto. These are the first string quartets of the so-called “middle-period”, after the 6 “early” quartets in op. 18. By this time, Beethoven was truly established as a respected master in Vienna, at the age of 35.
By the way, even Beethoven waited for a while until he attacked the string quartets category, with such a strong tradition being established by Haydn and Mozart.
Op. 59 No. 1 and 2 present all the skill set of an accomplished composer, so no matter how often you listen to them, there’s always something new to discover. These were sponsored by Andrey Rasumowsky, an important diplomat in Vienna at that time.
Quatuor Ebène: Beethoven Around The World – Vienna
I’ve written about the French Quatuor Ebène before, praising their fantastic recording of Schubert’s string quintet.
I’ve even seen them live some years ago performing late Beethoven at the Tonhalle in Zürich (still in the old hall, not the current “factory” interim arrangement).
I therefore had high expectations when I read that they will release a complete cycle of Beethoven’s string quartets, taken from live recordings throughout the world, during 2020, which you know if you haven’t been hiding under a rock, is Beethoven’s 250th anniversary.
The “Vienna” in the album title refers to the recording location, so very appropriately starting in the town which was Beethoven’s home for so many years.
So what do you get, and how does it compare to my current reference cycle, by the great Takacs quartet?
Well to make it short: it is a truly great recording. Both Ebène and Takacs give you top-notch performances of both op. 59 No. 1 and 2. Ebène is occasionally a bit more on the extremes, while the Takacs are slightly more “polished”, but both are truly enjoyable performance of these masterpieces.
Really can’t wait for the rest of the tour of “Beethoven around the world”!
My rating: 5 stars
You can find it here (Qobuz)