Beethoven: The Late String Quartets - Yale String Quartet (3CD)
The Yale Quartet's late-1960s/early-1970s recordings of Beethoven's late quartets stood proudly among the era's reference versions for these compositions, yielding little if anything to contemporaneous editions from the Guarneri, Juilliard, Budapest, Hungarian, and Vegh quartets. Time has not tarnished their sonic, interpretive, and ensemble virtues one iota. The musicians are intensely attuned to Op. 127's subtle linear interplay and achieve prodigious feats of tonal shading, internal balances, and dynamic calibration that never once appear calculated or overly worked out. In fact, the music seems to arise from the score and play itself.
The Scherzando in particular fuses iron-clad control and ebullient rhythmic spring in a manner that makes other ensembles sound as if they're working too hard. You can say the same for the lightness and harmonic tension conveyed in the Finale's brisk passagework. Moreover, first violinist Broadus Erle's eloquent phrasing and cellist Aldo Parisot's unflappably firm bass underpinnings prove major assets. The quartet delivers a B-flat Op. 130 that stands out for tightly knit tempo relationships (especially crucial in the first movement, with all its starts and stops) plus breathtaking nuances. I especially enjoy how they impetuously rush ahead in the Presto yet never lose their grip.
Listeners who opt for the Grosse Fugue finale over the composer's shorter, lighter replacement movement (both are included here) will marvel at the Yale Quartet's passionate, scrupulous treatment of this often intractable music. It's preferable to a string orchestra version from the 1950s that fills out Disc 2. That performance suffers from opaque, boomy sonics, together with playing that is not quite in the Klemperer/Philharmonia or Ansermet/Suisse Romande class, let alone numerous later traversals. My rating, however, solely reflects the Yale Quartet recordings. Chamber music connoisseurs won't want to miss them.
For attention to dynamic detail, linear give and take, and total mastery of the composer's make-or-break tempo changes and transitions, the Yale's Op. 131 can hardly be beat. Listen to the abrupt ease with which the seventh movement interrupts the preceding movement's introspective reserve, or to how the players tear through the fifth movement at a breakneck tempo and still sound relaxed. There are slight but noticeable intonation blemishes during exposed solo passages in the fourth-movement variations that may bother some listeners more than others.
An even higher level of tonal beauty and ensemble sophistication distinguishes the group's Op. 132. Cellist Aldo Parisot's golden tone particularly shines in the first movement's second theme, and the 17-minute-plus Adagio is a model of sustained concentration and intensity. Op. 135's inner movements fare best, especially in the group's unusual attention to the quirky Scherzo's bass lines. For my taste, the outer movements' brisk, strictly maintained basic tempos barely allow the music's conversational playfulness its full due. (I should mention one textual oddity: the quartet plays the first movement's final note as a unison F-natural, although the score indicates an F major chord). Those few quibbles aside, serious chamber music lovers should not hesitate to acquire this important and time-tested late-Beethoven.
--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
Quartet No. 12 In E Flat Major, Op. 127, 1. Maestoso; Allegro
Quartet No. 12 In E Flat Major, Op. 127, II. Adagio, Ma Non Troppo E Molto Cantabile
Quartet No. 12 In E Flat Major, Op. 127, III. Scherzando Vivace; Presto
Quartet No. 12 In E Flat Major, Op. 127, IV. Finale
Quartet No. 14, Op. 131, I. Adagio Ma Non Troppo E Molto Espressivo
Quartet No. 14, Op. 131, II. Allegro Molto Vivace
Quartet No. 14, Op. 131, III. Allegro Moderato
Quartet No. 14, Op. 131, IV. Andante Ma No Troppo E Molto Cantabile
Quartet No. 14, Op. 131, V. Presto
Quartet No. 14, Op. 131, VI. Adagio, Quasi Un Poco Andante
Quartet No. 14, Op. 131, VII. Allegro
Quartet No. 13, Op. 130, I. Adagio Ma Non Troppo; Allegro
Quartet No. 13, Op. 130, II.presto
Quartet No. 13, Op. 130, III. Andante Con Moto Ma Non Troppo
Quartet No. 13, Op. 130, IV. Alla Danza Tedesca: Llegro Assai
Quartet No. 13, Op. 130, V. Adagio Moto Expressivo
Quartet No. 13, Op. 130, Vi. Finale: Allegro
Grosse Fuge, Op. 133
Quartet No. 15, Op. 132, I. Assai Sostenuto: Allegro
Quartet No. 15, Op. 132, II. Allegro, Ma Non Tanto
Quartet No. 15, Op. 132, III. Molto Adagio - "heiliger Dankgesang Eines Genesenen An Die Gottheit, In Der Lydischen Tonart"; Andante.
Quartet No. 15, Op. 132, IV. All Marica, Assai Vivace
Quartet No. 15, Op. 132, V. Allegro Appassionato
Quartet No. 16, Op. 135, I. Allegretto
Quartet No. 16, Op. 135, II. Vivace
Quartet No. 16, Op. 135, III. Lento Assai, Cantante E Tranquillo
Quartet No. 16, Op. 135, IV. "der Schwe Gefasste Entschluss": Grave Ma Non Troppo Tratto, "muss Es Soin?": Allegro, "es Muss Sein!"