Continuing its fresh, vibrant survey of the Beethoven string quartets, this volume finds the Artemis Quartet visiting the two quartets in the key of B flat major. The first, Op. 18/6, comes from the beginning of Beethoven's career as a composer of quartets, following in the footsteps of Mozart and Haydn while already forging new ground and pushing the envelope of traditional quartet form. By the time Beethoven came around to writing in B flat again in his Op. 130 quartet, he had transformed string quartet writing to an entirely new realm. Op. 130's six-movement form was in itself surprising, and its original finale -- now known primarily as the Op. 133 Grosse Fuge -- was so outside the box that Beethoven was encouraged to replace his mighty contrapuntal finale with something a bit more accessible. The Artemis Quartet has chosen to perform the quartet in its original format, with the Grosse Fuge as the finale. Some listeners may be disappointed, however, that the "new" Allegro Finale is not to be included somewhere on the disc. It is, after all, something written by Beethoven and it would be nice to allow listeners to decide for themselves which of the finales best suits the expansive quartet. Apart from programming decisions, the Artemis Quartet's performances here are in line with previous installments: edgy, powerful, and insightful. From the nimble prestos and scherzos to the delicate Cavatina and Malinconia, Artemis is an ensemble possessing a wealth of tone colors and textures ideally suited to accentuating the contrasts between the early and late quartets. The blended sound is highly refined, just as the balance and intonation are, too. Virgin's sound is clear and present, offering a truly top-notch listening experience.
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AllMusic Review by Mike D. Brownell
|String Quartet No. 6 in B flat major, Op. 18|
|String Quartet No. 13 in B flat major, Op. 130|