Review by Beagle October 14, 2010 (7 of 7 found this review helpful)
“I can’t go on; I must go on…” says Sir, the age-exhausted actor in the play and film ‘The Dresser’. He says it again and again until, finally, he steps through the curtain and into the demanding role of King Lear.... That protracted backstage hesitation is the only drama in ‘The Dresser’ (Lear himself doesn't figure).
Mozart famously hesistates: through 22 bars of “Dissonanz”, before launching into his C major quartet KV465. Sixteen years later Beethoven does virtually the same thing for 30 bars on the threshold of HIS C major quartet, Op. 59 no. 3. As Homer Ulrich says, “a diminished chord … introduces a series of shifting harmonies in which rhythm is virtually negated”; Melvin Berger calls it “the eerie introduction … without any forward motion and seemingly suspended in time”; Paul Griffiths does not hesitate to proclaim Op. 59/3 “equally as deserving as Mozart’s of the nickname ‘Dissonance’.”.
ANDANTE CON MOTO
Until this recording, Opus 59 no. 3 was just ‘a middle quartet’ to me, amusing but not thought-provoking on CDs by the Juilliard, New Budapest and Fry Street Quartet*. And even on SACD, I remain as underwhelmed by the Tokyo Quartet as were Rick Phillips on CBC and Rob Cowan in Gramophone (Feb. 2008). But within seconds of putting this disc on to play, I was doing a slack jawed double-take, re-reading the label to be sure that this was indeed the opening to Op. 59/3 and not one of the Late Quartets. Wow! The Challenge label’s sound and the Kuijkens’ playing are mind-alteringly good. I’ll give the Kuijkens most of the credit, namely for perceiving and realising possibilities here, but recording producer/engineer Bert van der Wolf gets his own five stars for creating a disc against which I will judge all other chamber music on SACD (and without benefit of IsoMike or DXD).
ANDANTE QUASI ALLEGRETTO – MENUETTO
Beginnings are important in so many ways, either determining what is to follow or altering how we regard the rest – but there is more to this disc than just the first 30 bars, all of it delicious. The cello pizzicato of the ineffably sad second movement would give joy to Tchaikovsky who was only happy when he wept. And no matter how forward-looking the incipit, the Menuetto is graciously backward looking to the delicate beauty of Haydn’s generation.
FINALE: ALLEGRETTO MOLTO
The Early Quartets were small compositions, but beginning with Op. 59 Beethoven goes boldly forward and expands the genre to symphonic proportions – not merely in duration but also in ‘grandeur’: this quartet shares the epithet ‘Eroica’ with the symphony which debuted the following year, and for similar reasons.
Opus 59 no. 3 was the first of Beethoven's Middle Quartets to be written: in 1801 -- a mere year after he wrapped up his first set, Op. 18. The Op. 29 Quintet, also in C major, was written the same year, along with dozens of other works including the Moonlight Sonata: Ludwig in full spate!
Ludwig started sketching a quint shortly after arriving in Wien and published an E flat quintet as Op. 4 in 1796. But then he focused upon mastering the quartet form, before returning to five string instruments*. Quintets are relative rarities, with quartets vastly outnumbering them in the classical canon and, unless one recognises a distinctive melody, it is not easy to tell a quint from a quart. It’s essentially a quartet with a bit of a boost lent to one of the lower voices, in this case the viola which always hovers on the edge of inaudibility**. Op. 29 received the nickname ‘Sturm-Kvintett’ in reference to imagined lightning flashes in the Scherzo… but not very convincingly to my ears. I am however swept up by the series of dizzying ‘perpetua mobile’ motifs, now fast, now slow – the sort of thing that sets small children and tipsy adults spinning ‘round the livingroom, so watch out if you have Hummel figurines on the mantelpiece.... No apologies are wanting for this substantial make-weight.
I have about 450 SACDs, and only a handful are as satisfying as this disc – so let’s call this a One-in-a-Hundred class of recording. I apologise for not posting this review earlier, February 2008 to be precise; a family emergency distracted me.
* The only later string quintet, Op. 104, is an arrangement of Op. 1/3, apparently by one of Beethoven’s students in 1817. Op. 137 from the same year is the beginning of an unfinished Fugue for String Quintet.
** The second viola part introduces yet another member of the Kuijken tribe, Marleen Thiers, who joins her husband Sigiswald and their daughters Veronica and Sara, plus good old Uncle Wieland. Note that Papa Sigiswald plays second fiddle to his daughter Veronica!
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Review by miguelito54 January 9, 2010 (4 of 4 found this review helpful)
|The brothers Sigiswald & Wieland Kuijken are known for their historically informed performances, but together with their daughters and wife they use "modern" instruments. Sigiswald stresses the fact that this CD (as well as their previous efforts with works by Debussy and Schumann) should be considered simply as music played based on their personal experiences and the admiration for the music and the joy of playing together, but of course their experience with period instruments shows: They use vibrato rather sparingly, a variety of phrasings and tone production as suggested by older violin methods, and a sensitivity for sound and dynamics so finely crafted it is a welcome contrast to most other performances that rather over-emphasize the expressive sides of these works. "Conventional" quartet playing sounds exaggerated in comparison. The music speaks for itself with a glowing beauty, lots of charm and freshness.
Sound is spacy, clear, placing the quartet on a soundstage removed a few feet from the listener; although I would have preferred a somewhat closer placement of the players, it is an excellent sounding recording. The balance between transparency of individual voices and quartet sound is perfect.
Highly recommended as an alternative to more conventional quartet stylistics.
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