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Beethoven: Middle String Quartets / Orion String Quartet


Release Date: 03/27/2007 
Label:  Koch International Classics Catalog #: 7681   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Steven TenenbomDaniel PhillipsTimothy EddyTodd Phillips
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orion String Quartet
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 42 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



BEETHOVEN String Quartets: No. 7 in F, op. 59/1, “Razumovsky”; No. 8 in e, op. 59/2, “Razumovsky”; No. 9 in C , op. 59/3, “Razumovsky”; No. 10 in E?, op. 74, “Harp”; No. 11 in f, op. 95, “Serioso” Orion Str Qrt KOCH 7681 ( 3 CDs: 162:14)


The Read more Orion has had a distinguished two-decade career, but, so far as I know, this marks its first recorded foray into Beethoven. Despite what some may view as a few shortcomings, it is a distinguished release. The sound, for one thing is ideal—close perspective but never claustrophobic, it gives a compelling illusion of what a string quartet would sound like performing in my 15 x 30 wood-paneled listening room.


The group is simply there, and unlike what occurs in some quartet recordings, given such an intimate closeness, the musicians’ breathing is almost never apparent. Certainly the group’s thoroughly modern, occasionally edgy tone seems well suited to Beethoven. And balances throughout are impressive, each voice always audible, so much so in fact that individual notes within chords become discernible. Dynamic range is uncommonly wide, a tribute as much to the playing as to the engineering. As a result, the stark contrasts between forte and piano , so typical of Beethoven, prove especially arresting. In terms of pacing, the group might generally be considered middle of the road in that it avoids the slower and faster extremes encountered in recordings by both the Takács and Emerson Quartets.


Over and beyond the generalizations cited above, some specific virtues of this set deserve note. The very opening of 59/1 is especially impressive. Here the Orion underscores how the music is filled with initial expectation, beginning as it does on a six-four chord, in effect an instability, and going on an ensuing 19-measure search for its harmonic root. Rarely has this passage seemed so aptly tension-filled as it does in this reading. And throughout the rest of work the playing—from the deliciously witty part exchanges of the second movement to the pointedly mesto projection of the slow movement and the relaxed but never unduly expansive finale—this shines as a particularly commanding account. In another miraculous passage, the coda of the first movement of op. 74, the Orion’s clean articulation of what can become a bit of polyphonic blur, clarifies Beethoven’s dramatic mastery of controlled abandon, a joyous, almost frenzied outburst that always remains under tight artistic rein. The miraculous slow movement of op. 59/2 gains from an intensity tied to its not being unduly protracted. The harmonically ambiguous chord that opens op. 59/3 sounds aptly intrusive, and the work’s concluding movement is articulated just slowly enough to insure that each strand of its fugal texture is well focused. Everything about op. 95 is superb; from its rude outbursts, clean-edged, craggy motivic fragments, and brooding slow movement fully conveying the music’s eerie ethos, it shines along with op. 59/1 as a prize of this release.


But whereas these works omit the usual exposition repeats, the three other scores in this set specify them, a specification the Orion shuns. Many may feel this practice comprises major omissions. Indeed, some groups, notably the Takács, even include secondary repeats of developments and recapitulations. Also, unless this set sells for less than the full-price of three CDs, its third disc, running to a mere 21:43 in its sole offering of op. 95, may be judged wanting. Shortcomings though these omissions and limited duration may be, they should not detract from the musical virtues of the playing. Certainly, this is a release to consider, especially for those collecting multiple versions.


FANFARE: Mortimer H. Frank
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Works on This Recording

1. Quartet for Strings no 7 in F major, Op. 59 no 1 "Razumovsky" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Steven Tenenbom (Viola), Daniel Phillips (Violin), Timothy Eddy (Cello),
Todd Phillips (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orion String Quartet
Written: 1805-6 
Length: 38 Minutes 34 Secs. 
2. Quartet for Strings no 8 in E minor, Op. 59 no 2 "Razumovsky" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Daniel Phillips (Violin), Timothy Eddy (Cello), Steven Tenenbom (Viola),
Todd Phillips (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orion String Quartet
Period: Classical 
Written: 1805-1806; Vienna, Austria 
Length: 33 Minutes 22 Secs. 
3. Quartet for Strings no 9 in C major, Op. 59 no 3 "Razumovsky" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Steven Tenenbom (Viola), Daniel Phillips (Violin), Timothy Eddy (Cello),
Todd Phillips (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orion String Quartet
Written: 1805/6 
Length: 29 Minutes 3 Secs. 
4. Quartet for Strings no 10 in E flat major, Op. 74 "Harp" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Timothy Eddy (Cello), Steven Tenenbom (Viola), Daniel Phillips (Violin),
Todd Phillips (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orion String Quartet
Period: Classical 
Written: 1809; Vienna, Austria 
Length: 30 Minutes 3 Secs. 
5. Quartet for Strings no 11 in F minor, Op. 95 "Serioso" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Steven Tenenbom (Viola), Timothy Eddy (Cello), Daniel Phillips (Violin),
Todd Phillips (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orion String Quartet
Written: 1810 
Length: 20 Minutes 58 Secs. 

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