Beethoven Complete String Quartets
When most issues of Beethoven Op 18 easily manage to fit three quartets onto a CD, it seems rather mean of MDG to bring out such a short programme. However, quality is more important than quantity and, as one has come to expect from the Leipzig Quartet, these are performances of exceptional finesse and integrity.
Such qualities are immediately apparent at the opening of No 6 where, amid the splendidly vigorous, bustling atmosphere, they manage to give the answering phrases in violin and cello a gentler articulation. The second movement of this Quartet, though marked Adagio ma non troppo, has a surprisingly slow metronome mark, which the Leipzigers observe, their fine sense of line allowing the music to flow easily even at this spacious tempo, and they impart an especially chilling aspect to the sinister minor-key middle section.
The D major Quartet starts sweetly and gently, gradually and effortlessly picking up more liveliness as the movement progresses. The Andante flows easily, with notably rich, dark-hued tone in the passages in low register, and the third movement winningly combines a lively tempo with a slightly wistful manner.
In short, I’d say that these must be among the most persuasively played, finely recorded Op 18 performances available. There are places where I might prefer other versions – The Lindsays’ spontaneity in the finale of No 6, or the joyful virtuosity of the Emerson in the last movement of No 3 – but, overall, the Leipzig Quartet is as satisfying as any.