Quatuor Ébène

Beethoven Around the World: Vienna - Op. 59 Nos. 1 & 2

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This is the first album in what will be a seven-CD cycle by the Quatuor Ébène, to be, as the subtitle indicates, performed and recorded around the world. There will be various more or less exotic locales, including Nairobi, but this premiere release was recorded in the Vienna Konzerthaus, which, as it happens, is a bit chilly in Erato's engineering. That's one of the few complaints here, though, as this album promises much. The Quatuor Ébène plunges in with the difficult String Quartet No. 7 in F major, Op. 59, No. 1, and String Quartet No. 8 in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2, from the middle-period set of so-called Razumovsky Quartets. The Quatuor Ébène delivers variegated readings that indicate a deep study of each quartet rather than an overarching vision of the cycle as a whole. The F major quartet opens not with the usual heroic reading but with a quick nervousness that does not resolve until the broad, warm finale. In the E minor quartet, the Quatuor Ébène at first lets the extreme compactness of the music stand on its own, waiting until second subjects and middle sections to let the tension explode. The Quatuor Ébène is not afraid to run counter to type, and the group's readings are fresh and absorbing in some very well-trodden repertory. One awaits, with great interest, the future volumes in the cycle.

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