Notes and Editorial Reviews
6 String Quartets,
Philharmonia Qrt Berlin
THOROFON 2456 2 (2 CDs:155:34)
The Philharmonia Quartet Berlin was founded in 1984—undergoing only one personnel change since then—by Daniel Stabrawa, the principal concertmaster, and the string section leaders of the Berlin Philharmonic. These recordings were made between 2000 and 2008, and are being released only now. Beethoven’s six early quartets are played here in the best traditional manner. Rhythms are crisp and
accurate, tempos are appropriately lively or relaxed, the balance of voices is precisely gauged, and intonation is secure. Beethoven gives the opening of each quartet in op. 18 its own individual mood, distinct from the other five, and the Philharmonic Quartet Berlin finds the right characterization in every case: taut and expectant in No. 1, elegant and playful in No. 2, patient and expansive in No. 3, stormy and dramatic in No. 4, gracious in No. 5, giddily affirmative in No. 6.
I compared the PQB’s traversal of op. 18 with the Cleveland Quartet’s version and found the interpretations quite similar, with Telarc’s reverberant acoustic and the Cleveland’s richer, more plush string sound adding up to a smoother sense of the music. The PQB’s sound tends toward leanness and its slightly more urgent approach seems to me more true to Beethoven.
Years ago, I felt that the original Cleveland Quartet, with Donald Weilerstein playing first violin, brought a special dynamism to op. 18, but their RCA recordings are long gone. I admire the earlier Alban Berg Quartet’s version, as well as the Takács’s. In Beethoven, the Hagen, the currently active quartet that impresses me the most, takes more liberties than normal with timing and search for color in interpreting the music. The op. 18 quartets are, of course, inexhaustibly entertaining and satisfying, and collectors will no doubt have their preferred versions. The Philharmonia Quartet Berlin’s unaffected, bracing performances are well worth considering as a second version, if not a first choice.
FANFARE: Paul Orgel
Works on This Recording
String Quartets (6), Op. 18 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Philharmonia Quartet Berlin
Length: 151 Minutes 19 Secs.
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