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Beethoven: String Quartets Op 74 & 95 / Tokyo String Quartet

Release Date: 01/13/2009 
Label:  Harmonia Mundi   Catalog #: 807460   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Martin BeaverKazuhide IsomuraClive GreensmithKikuei Ikeda
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tokyo String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
Length: 0 Hours 53 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.

With this latest release in the Tokyo String Quartet’s remake of their Beethoven quartet cycle for Harmonia Mundi, the ensemble has completed all but the remaining five late quartets. In 31: 4, the Tokyo’s new set of the early op. 18 quartets did not earn a positive notice from me. I cited a coarseness, graininess, and hardness to the sound of the recordings, and a roughness in the playing that were not evident in the group’s 1990 traversal for RCA with the original lineup of players. The replacement of first violinist Peter Oundjian with Martin Beaver, and cellist Sadao Harada with Clive Greensmith, I opined, did not augur for the
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A little of this, but not a lot, still besets the current release—the cello, for example, launching hell-bent-for-leather into the trio section of the third-movement Presto in the “Harp” Quartet, is so raucous that the actual notes become garbled and indistinct. On balance, however, I find this latest installment a measurable improvement, with a number of felicities to recommend it. One in particular is the coda to the first movement of the aforementioned quartet. In not a few performances, the four-note head motif that steals in at first almost unnoticed beneath the first violin’s mounting frenzy of arpeggios is submerged in the general mêlée. But those four notes that set the whole quartet into motion, now interleaving, layering, and leapfrogging in these final measures, build to one of the most palm-sweating, heart-racing climaxes Beethoven ever wrote, and they tell us what this movement is all about. The Tokyo’s reading of this coda manages to separate the strands so that we hear what really matters.

Then there is the Tokyo’s performance of the turbulent, storm-tossed F-Minor “Serioso” Quartet, which, from beginning to end, is one of the most illuminating I’ve heard. Paradoxically, in passages where I would have expected some coarseness of tone and would even have excused it in such a sea of seething rage, the Tokyo—individually and collectively—produces a clean, incisive sound that clarifies the part-writing, and in so doing, makes manifest the ill winds that swirl like a vortex through this score. Other ensembles—I’m thinking of the Artemis, Hagen, Sine Nomine, and Takács Quartets in particular—capture the clenched-fist fitful fury of the thing; but there’s something about revenge served cold, as it is here by the Tokyo, that makes it all the more chilling. In this, the Tokyo resembles more closely the Cleveland and Emerson Quartets.

A performance described in this way could be taken as an invitation to assume that the players are disengaged and the playing unresponsive. In this case, that would be a mistake. There is, to be sure, a sharply etched, white diamond-like quality to these readings, but they are not clinical. The Adagio ma non troppo of the E?-Major Quartet and the Allegretto ma non troppo of the F-Minor Quartet speak in tones of a lofty serenity that moved me deeply.

The release is available in both standard CD and hybrid SACD formats. I received the SACD version for review. Though recorded at fairly close range, each instrument occupies its own space, and the soundstage is defined by exceptional depth. As a standalone disc in the Tokyo Quartet’s new Beethoven cycle, this one I can recommend highly and without reservations.

— Jerry Dubins, Fanfare [5-6/2009]
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Works on This Recording

Quartet for Strings no 10 in E flat major, Op. 74 "Harp" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Martin Beaver (Violin), Kazuhide Isomura (Viola), Clive Greensmith (Cello),
Kikuei Ikeda (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tokyo String Quartet
Period: Classical 
Written: 1809; Vienna, Austria 
Length: 30 Minutes 27 Secs. 
Quartet for Strings no 11 in F minor, Op. 95 "Serioso" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Clive Greensmith (Cello), Kikuei Ikeda (Violin), Kazuhide Isomura (Viola),
Martin Beaver (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tokyo String Quartet
Written: 1810 
Length: 20 Minutes 40 Secs. 

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