Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quartets: No. 9,
op. 59/3, Third “Razumovsky”;
op. 74, “Harp”
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 5370 (63:19)
In the interest of full disclosure, I will begin with a personal confession or perhaps a disclaimer of sorts. Some of my earliest memories of chamber music involve the Amadeus String Quartet. One of my dad’s best friends owned its 1960s Beethoven DG cycle, and occasionally he would travel
to our house with his most treasured possession and let us have a listen. Having been led to believe that the Amadeus was the finest string quartet there ever was, a few years later, when I began collecting records on my own in my adoptive country, I invariably bought its recordings ignoring much of the competition. Of course, like many great love stories, my exclusive relationship with the Amadeus eventually ran its course, and CDs featuring other ensembles began to populate my shelves. Despite having now lived in a loving but noncommitted relationship with a number of string quartets for quite some time, I continue to have a very soft spot for the Amadeus. First and foremost, I love the warmth, serenity, and humor it brought to everything it played—I know of few other quartets that approached music with as much joy and optimism. Beyond the ensemble’s music-making, I have always admired the affection and commitment the four members of the quartet felt toward one another, as evidenced by the ensemble’s decision to dissolve upon the death of violist Peter Schidlof.
Taped in excellent sound in June and July of 1987, these are the Amadeus’s very last recordings. They were intended to be the first installment in a new Beethoven cycle, but Schidlof’s death a month later would see the end of that project and of the ensemble itself. While, in light of my personal history, I am perhaps unable to approach these recordings with complete objectivity, they certainly have all the hallmarks of the Amadeus. These are luminous performances of tremendous insight, replete with the kind of wisdom, gentleness, and humanity that can only be achieved after decades of playing Beethoven’s music and living through it. There are countless moments to savor, most notably in the last movement of the “Harp,” where Schidlof’s instrument glows miraculously—did he know that the end was near? It is hard not to wax poetic, but, all epithets aside, this is hands-down the best “Harp” I know, and the only performance I have heard that makes a winning argument that this Cinderella of Beethoven’s cycle is not only a great work but also the first of the last quartets. Bean counters will surely point out that there are sundry technical flaws in the ensemble’s delivery, particularly in the Third “Razumovsky,” and that (many) other groups have delivered more tightly coiled readings of these works. Be that as it may, I guarantee that once you hear these performances in whole, any technical slips will be forgotten and you will walk away with a newfound appreciation for what great art is all about.
Fans of the Amadeus will certainly need no urging. The rest of the world is strongly advised to give these recordings a listen. They will be a source of eternal joy and perhaps even the beginning of a new love story with one of the last century’s greatest ensembles.
FANFARE: Radu A. Lelutiu
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