Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quartets: in e,
Qrt di Cremona
AUDITE 92681 (SACD: 69:42)
This is Volume 2 in the Quartetto di Cremona’s Beethoven string quartet cycle. I enthused at length over Volume 1 in 37:1, detailing a number of salient points about the ensemble’s performances. My only reservation—more of a question, really—concerned the oddity of kicking off a survey of the quartets with opp. 18/6, 95, and 135.
That peculiar peregrination through the canonical 16 continues with this second release, which offers the second of the three “Razumovsky” quartets, the E-Minor, op. 59/2, and the first in order of the late quartets, the Eb-Major, op. 127. I’m not noticing any pattern in this hopscotch approach, but I do hope when the cycle is complete and Audite sees fit to reissue it as a boxed set that the individual quartets will be rearranged on the discs in a more user-friendly format. Maybe it’s just my control-freak nature, but I don’t like having to shuttle back and forth between discs to listen to the quartets in order, be it numerical or chronological.
Of the three “Razumovsky” quartets, the E-Minor is the child born with an ill-tempered disposition and a frowning face. Two curt chords announce the birth, immediately followed by a terse 10-note motive, which anticipates in its asperity the even more agitated 11-note motive that opens the F-Minor Quartet, op. 95.
The whole of the first movement is turbulent and in a state of barely repressed rage. Beethoven’s metronome marking of 84 to the dotted quarter-note in 6/8 is incredibly fast—Road Runner cartoon-fast, actually—and while the Quartetto di Cremona’s players don’t quite hit that frantic velocity, the impression they make is one of breakneck speed, thanks to their storm-tossed performance, which pitches and yaws with every dynamic upheaval and every angry accent. This is really phenomenal playing, and not just on a technical level. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the angst-ridden inner voices in this movement register with such alarming presence.
Perhaps even more amazing is how the ensemble can alter its sound from the chill of the first movement to the melting warmth of the second. What a poignant, Romantic reading the ensemble gives to this
. Listen to those crescendos on a single bow and to those
bow strokes. I’ve heard lots of string quartets play this music, but never like this.
Who are these players and where did they come from? We know they’re Italian—Cristiano Gualco and Paolo Andreoli, violins; Simone Gramaglia, viola; and Giovanni Scaglione, cello—and that they came together to form the Quartetto di Cremona in 2000 at the Stauffer Academy in Cremona. Until now, however, they’ve had a fairly low profile on record. If my opinion is worth anything, I predict that this Beethoven cycle is going to change that in a hurry and in a big way. The more I listen to these performances the more incredulous I become that it’s even humanly possible to play this music the way these four players do. I am simply thunderstruck.
Truth is, as much as I love and revere Beethoven’s string quartets, I have to admit that the Eb-Major, op. 127, has never been one of my favorites. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, but there was always something about this one particular score out of the 16 that just didn’t speak to me; and that always bothered me because intellectually I knew it should. It couldn’t be Beethoven’s fault, so it had to be mine. Well, all of that doubt and self-recrimination was suddenly lifted off me like a huge weight when I heard this performance. Suddenly, for the first time, after all these years, I understood what this music was about. I’m afraid I can’t say more than that because, for once, I’m truly speechless.
All I can and will say is that the Quartetto di Cremona is not just the most exciting and fantastic recent string quartet to come down the pike, it may well be at this moment in time the greatest living and performing string quartet on the planet. How utterly superfluous would it be, given what I’ve already said, to tack a “recommended” onto the end of this review? But if you don’t acquire this disc—and Volume 1 too—you’ll be missing the opportunity for a life-altering experience.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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