Notes and Editorial Reviews
The first of the Artemis Quartet’s Virgin Classics CDs of Beethoven Quartets was released in Autumn 2005. Now, nearly six years later, the complete Beethoven cycle becomes available in a box of 7 CDs which includes two previously unreleased items: the quartet No 10, op 74, known as the ‘Harp’, and a transcription for string quartet, proudly made by Beethoven himself, of the Piano Sonata No 9, op 14.
Eckart Runge, cellist of the Artemis Quartet, expresses the players’ views on the composer’s quartets: “His music speaks to every era – it is a perfect dialogue between tradition and modernity, and between intellectual refinement and raw emotion ... In relation to the time in which he lived, Beethoven is the most modern,
provocative, experimental and boldest composer of all. Many have used the string quartet to experiment, to trial and develop their mode of composition ... but none of them was more extreme than Beethoven. Even today, the Grosse Fuge remains one of the most incredible and most modern pieces of music ever written... No matter how complicated the form, one can always find essential human emotion in Beethoven, whether it is hopeful longing, apprehension, exuberant joy or shy affection.”
Beethoven’s extraordinary musical evolution is traced in the cycle, which remains the touchstone of the quartet repertoire. Die Zeit observed that the Artemis Quartet is: “An ensemble that, when compared to groups on a similar level of perfection, seems to approach the repertoire from another horizon. Many quartets convey an air in their playing of rarefied workmanship and detached refinement from the world. They explore the music within the notes. The members of the Artemis come as people who live life, and life is what they seek in Beethoven too.”
Reviews from the previous recordings that make up this set.
Op. 18 No. 5 & 3, Op. 135
In a typically imaginative piece of programming, the Artemis Quartet group the two least known – and reputedly most Classical – of the Op. 18 Quartets, with the last of the ‘late’ Quartets. In so doing, they highlight Janus-faced qualities of Op. 135. While the slow movement’s high-straining expression and use of silence anticipate (and almost certainly influenced) Mahler, the intimate, alert exchanges in the first movement recreate Classical era instrumental dialogue on a new plane of intensity. Similarly, the brilliant rhythmic games of the Scherzo echo similar features in the two Op. 18 Quartets, while at the same time leaving the impression that Stravinsky learnt a lot from this music. For the Artemis Quartet, the Beethoven of Op. 135 is recognisably the composer of Op. 18 Nos 3 and 5, while at the same time we sense how far he has travelled. And the experience is so rich in each case that it’s hard to think of any recent versions that better these. True, they don’t quite match the Takács Quartet’s sense of ploughing a very deep furrow, expressively or intellectually. But neither do the Takács match the Artemis when it comes to understanding Beethoven’s unique mixture of playfulness and profundity. This is the ideal recording to play to anyone who thinks that Beethoven didn’t have a sense of humour. The hushed pizzicato coda of Op. 135 is delicious – a kind of ‘that’s all folks!’ that throws the seriousness of the slow movement and finale introduction into sublime relief. A couple of editorial changes to the harmony in the last two movements provoke thought.
-- Stephen Johnson , BBC Music Magazine
Op. 18 No. 6, Op. 130, Op. 59 No. 3, Op. 18 No. 2, Op. 131, Op. 132 Grosse Fuge Op. 133
Although the recordings featured on the double CD were made between 1998 and 2002 and first released on the Ars Musici in conjunction with West German Radio, it’s hardly surprising that Virgin Classics should have chosen to reissue them as part of the Artemis Quartet’s ongoing Beethoven cycle.
In almost every respect they offer extremely dynamic and incisive playing in excellent sound. One really senses the tangible feeling of excitement as the mysterious chromatic chords in the introduction to Op. 59 No. 3 are suddenly resolved with unequivocal tonality in the exhilarating projection of the ensuing Allegro vivace.
Likewise, the fugal finale, delivered at a breathtakingly fast pace, evinces considerable variety of character, occasionally playful and humorous and at other times percussively aggressive.
Some may find their approach to the sforzando marks in the second movement a little mannered, but once again the players embrace the elegiac mood of the music with sensitivity whilst at the same time maintaining a flowing tempo that takes full account of Beethoven’s instruction to steer a judicious course between an Andante and an Allegretto.
There’s much to admire, too, in their rendition of Op. 18 No. 2. Perhaps the opening movement seems a bit brusque, lacking some of the Mozartian charm and elegance one would normally associate with early Beethoven. However the Adagio cantabile is beautifully expressive and in the scherzo and finale the Artemis once again project a similarly feisty approach to that of their third Razumovsky Quartet.
In their performances of the Opp. 131 and 132, the Artemis emphasise the other-worldliness of Beethoven’s inspiration in the non-vibrato opening of the A minor, as well as the modernity of his writing exemplified in the extraordinary sul ponticello textures in the fifth movement scherzo of the C sharp minor.
At the same time I don’t feel they quite maintain the same degree of spiritual intensity throughout the Heilige Dankgesang of Op. 132 as the Takács on Decca, my benchmark version for this particular work.
Any doubts about the Artemis’s approach to late Beethoven however are completely dispelled in their latest recording featuring the two quartets in B flat major. The sound is more immediate than in their earlier releases, and the change of personnel to the second violin and viola seems to have galvanised the quartet to play with even greater urgency and imagination than before.
Certainly their account of Op. 130 must rank as one of the finest ever recorded, and their decision to perform the work with the Grosse Fuge as the rightful finale is fully vindicated by the overwhelming power and audacity of the interpretation.
-- Erik Levi, BBC Music Magazine
Op. 18 No. 1, Op. 127
I was hugely impressed with the last offering from the Berlin-based Artemis Quartet. Their wonderful recording of Beethoven’s
String Quartets, Op. 18/6 and Op. 130 together with the
Große Fuge, Op. 133 will be one of my 2010 ‘Records of the Year’.
The Artemis is now up to number five in their projected cycle of the complete Beethoven string quartets for Virgin Classics.
For those readers new to the Artemis they got together in 1989 at music school in Lübeck. The official start was in 1999 with a recital at the Berlin Philharmonie. To have to replace a single quartet member is difficult in itself. So it must have been extremely challenging overcoming two changes in personnel when in 2007 Gregor Sigl and Friedemann Weigle joined the Artemis. On the evidence of the splendid recordings released since then the transition has clearly been highly successful.
Both of these works came about owing to the patronage of members of the Bohemian and Russian nobility. Dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz the op. 18 set of six string quartets was composed in 1798-1800. The
String Quartet No. 1 in F major, Op. 18/1 was actually the second to be written and Beethoven heavily revised it before publication in 1801. The first of the famous late quartets to be written was the op. 127
String Quartet No. 12 in E flat major. The score bears a dedication to Prince Nikolai Galitzin.
The Artemis performs the opening movement of the
F major Quartet with verve and a considerable yearning intensity. Inspired it seems by the tomb scene in Shakespeare’s
Romeo and Juliet the extended
Adagio has an abundance of human warmth with a serious inner intensity. Playing of reckless abandon combines with the unsettling chromaticism of the capricious
Scherzo. The Artemis play the boisterous
Finale with a compelling intensity.
A more uncompromising and often daunting proposition for some listeners is the late
Quartet in E flat major. In the hands of the Artemis the opening movement flows relentlessly like a precipitous stream. Poignant and intense the
Adagio is a set of variations and coda which is here given a searching and affecting interpretation. A stark contrast is provided by the shifting moods of the edgy and flickering
Infused with a marvellous dance-like spirit the
Finale is restless and often breathless music controlled splendidly by the Artemis.
Credit is due to the audio production team providing close and vividly clear sound of the highest quality. These are winning Beethoven accounts by the Artemis played with exhilarating directness and steely power. Their dynamic contrasts are broad without ever interrupting the flow. Beautifully played the slow movements are expressive and perceptively interpreted. The Artemis demonstrates a remarkable rapport with impressive technical prowess and flawless intonation.
-- Michael Cookson, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Quartet for Strings no 4 in C minor, Op. 18 no 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Natalia Prischepenko (Violin),
Eckart Runge (Cello),
Gregor Sigl (Violin),
Friedemann Weigle (Viola)
Artemis String Quartet
Length: 23 Minutes 3 Secs.
Quartet for Strings no 8 in E minor, Op. 59 no 2 "Razumovsky" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Eckart Runge (Cello),
Friedemann Weigle (Viola),
Gregor Sigl (Violin),
Natalia Prischepenko (Violin)
Artemis String Quartet
Written: 1805-1806; Vienna, Austria
Length: 35 Minutes 14 Secs.
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