Notes and Editorial Reviews
Peter Oundjian's finely crafted orchestral rendition of Beethoven's Op. 131 Quartet is quite the opposite of Leonard Bernstein's grippingly intense one. Whereas Bernstein strove to make the Vienna Philharmonic sound like a single, gigantic string quartet (and mostly succeeded), by contrast Oundjian plays the music like an orchestral work, taking advantage of the greater breadth of sound while naturally conceding the individuality-within-unity only obtainable with just four players. So where Bernstein is grittily dramatic (especially in the first movement, scherzo, and finale), Oundjian is softer edged, promoting more rounded sonorities.
This has its advantages, especially in the long Andante, where Oundjian's crisp phrasing and clear textures enable each variation to unfold in an almost Mozartean manner-- allowing for easier assimilation and comprehension (as well as avoiding Bernstein's ruminative longuers). On the other hand, Oundjian's fast movements never grab you as forcefully as Bernstein's, with their extreme dynamic contrasts and sharply accented rhythms. Nevertheless, the Nieuw Sinfonietta Amsterdam's beautifully toned playing makes this performance highly enjoyable. The same goes for the Grosse Fugue, which gains even more from Oundjian's shapely, rhythmically precise approach. The BIS recording offers a nicely spacious sound with plenty of detail. A highly recommendable alternate view of late Beethoven.
--Victor Carr Jr, ClassicsToday.com