Notes and Editorial Reviews
These are very beautiful performances. The Tokyo Quartet recorded a Beethoven cycle for RCA in 2000, but those recordings are out of print, and a subsequent personnel change along with the group's first appearance on Harmonia Mundi make this a welcome release nevertheless. Interpretively, these performances hover somewhere between the driving athleticism of such groups as the Alban Berg and Smetana Quartets and the aristocratic poise of the Quartetto Italiano. How well you respond to them depends on just how rough and gutsy you think Beethoven should sound, and also on whether or not you find the group's generously inflected phrasing sufficiently natural and unmannered.
Mind you, there is nothing here that strikes me
as being in questionable taste, nor do the performances seem unduly micro-managed. Many moments are breathtaking, as in the whispered opening of the fugue in the first-movement development section of Razumovsky No. 1. In the rapt Molto adagio of Quartet No. 2, the group captures the same transfigured stillness as the Italiano Quartet, but also enjoys the advantage of a more flowing basic tempo. All of the scherzos have the requisite bounce allied to impressive rhythmic precision, and whenever one of the various "Thème russe" episodes pops up, the group's phrasing becomes notably simpler and more direct, as it should. In short, the playing at no point descends into mere preciosity. But there is a sense in which the performers occasionally sound a touch self-conscious, in pursuit of a shapely phrase or a dynamically nuanced line for its own sake, however poetically they mange it.
One thing is certain: the engineering is magnificent, putting the quartet right into your listening room. Internal balances among the instruments are perfect, with cellist Clive Greensmith a solid but never excessively heavy presence in the bass. And for all the music's tactile immediacy there's thankfully little heavy breathing, or those seemingly inevitable performance noises that disfigure so many quartet recordings. The sense of concentration is palpable. In sum, these performances are very personal in approach, and so will be your own reaction to them. Certainly they have more than enough character and insight to allow them to stand out in a crowded field. I am very eagerly looking forward to further releases from this group on its new label. It should be a very rewarding collaboration. [1/30/2006]
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less
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