Elias String Quartet

Beethoven: The Complete String Quartets, Vol. 5

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The complete cycle of Beethoven quartets performed by the Elias String Quartet of Manchester (U.K.) at London's Wigmore Hall was widely acclaimed in live concerts, and now those not lucky enough to have heard them in the flesh have been able to enjoy them thanks to their appearance on the Wigmore Hall Live CD label. The entire set is worth the investment, but they can also profitably be sampled individually, and Vol. 5 exemplifies the best features of the set. There's one each from the early, middle, and late quartet sets, but the Elias takes each work on its own terms, rather than as representative of a set or of the whole cycle. The String Quartet in A major, Op. 18, No. 5, perhaps the most "Classical" of all, is given an especially airy reading, but gears shift completely with the String Quartet in C major, Op. 59, No. 3 ("Razumovsky" No. 3), which is tumultuous and intense. Sample the very beginning of this quartet, where the Elias pushes the quiet opening to an extreme and generally opts for a certainly justifiable high level of contrast. The String Quartet in C sharp minor, Op. 131 is also sharply differentiated, with an intense finale. The live-performance medium serves this group especially well, and Wigmore Hall's engineers bring a fine sense of immediacy to the music, even capturing the places where the group has opted for a bit of roughness. Highly recommended.

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