BEETHOVEN String Quartets Op 18/3, Op 131 (Calder Quartet)
Beethoven apparently once described himself as a new Bacchus. So he’d surely have approved of the winery in Napa Valley which – we learn in the booklet to this release from the Calder Quartet – produces a wine named after the Arietta from his Op 111 Piano Sonata. This (presumably excellent) tipple is the principal inspiration for Anders Hillborg’s Kongsgaard Variations, which the Calder Quartet have placed between Beethoven’s most backward-looking early quartet and his most forward-looking late one.
And while the Calders’ Beethoven is historically informed only in the loosest possible sense – tempos are fresh, rhythms are buoyant and vibrato is deployed as expression demands – their performances have something of the spirit of the composer’s own era. They ease carefully into Op 18 No 3 and let the momentum accumulate, often arriving at the moment of maximum, unbridled Beethovenian release towards the end of the movement.
In its way, that’s as arresting in the slow movement of Op 18 No 3 as it is in the muscular, vaulting climax of the finale to Op 131; I enjoyed the springy, tensile strength of the ensemble at that point. Elsewhere there’s scope for both lyricism and Haydnish wit, and in Pentatone’s lucid recorded sound you really hear the inner parts unfolding in the first movement of Op 131. I can think of late Beethoven that probes a lot deeper but I’ve never heard the quiet pay-off at the end of Op 18 No 3 sound like quite so much of an open question. As for the Hillborg – well, the idea is perhaps more exciting than the actual music, but with playing of such easy virtuosity, it blossoms very beguilingly. One to drink now, perhaps, rather than lay down in the cellar.