Fine Arts Quartet

Beethoven: Fugues and Rarities for String Quartet

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When programming goes beyond the Beethoven works with WoO (without opus, or never published) numbers and into the catalog of miscellanea designated by Hess numbers, the performers may reasonably be suspected of appealing mostly to Beethoven completists. Indeed, these may make up the bulk of the audience for this Fine Arts Quartet release, with its complement of prelude and fugue exercises from Beethoven's early years, but there are also pieces of considerable general interest. Chief among these is the opening early version, from the so-called "Amenda manuscript" of the String Quartet in F major, Op. 18, No. 1 (Hess 32). It's rare for a composer of Beethoven's time to hear the composer's actual creative process in action, but that's what happens here: Beethoven presented his friend Amenda with the quartet but then withdrew the work, demanded that it not be distributed, and rewrote it heavily. The main tunes are in place, but there are small emendations at almost every turn. This version has been recorded before, but much rarer is what is presented here as an early version of the String Quartet No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 131. It's not clear that's actually what it is: what is played here is a set of parts by a copyist that differs in some respects from Op. 131, as it is known in its final version. It's possible Beethoven had it made as a sort of working version for his performers, the Schuppanzigh Quartet, and only the first movement was copied in this way. The differences are not as great as in Op. 18, No. 1; consisting of small added syncopations and the like in the great melancholy fugue; this is a true rarity that does not appear in any catalogs at all of Beethoven's works, and this may mark its world premiere. The program concludes with a work that's not a rarity at all: the Grosse Fuge in B flat major, Op. 133, which departs from the prevailing mood. It's given a fine, driving performance, however. The resonant acoustic of the Christuskirche in Berlin is fine for the towering Grosse Fuge but overpowers the smaller student works.

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