Shanghai Quartet

Beethoven: String Quartets Op. 59/1 'Rasumovsky'; 59/3 'Rasumovsky'

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The Shanghai Quartet has made several Beethoven quartet recordings, including one of a pair of the Op. 59 "Rasumovsky" quartets released in 2004 on Delos. This disc offers a new Op. 59 recording, substituting the third quartet for No. 2, heard on the earlier disc. The present disc is a release from Japan's Camerata label; the Delos release and the group's earlier Beethoven releases can be difficult to find, and their obscurity is difficult to comprehend. A middle-sized British or American label could make the same kind of splash with the group as occurred with the Tokyo String Quartet several decades ago -- and the Shanghai Quartet doesn't sound anything like the Tokyo ensemble. If there is a "Chinese school" exemplified by pianist Lang Lang, the Shanghai falls into it here: it offers Beethoven that is big-boned, intense, and fully attuned to and even passionately concerned with the radical quality of the music. There is a way of doing the "Rasumovsky" quartets so that they seem as vast in scope as the Third and Fifth symphonies, and that's what happens here. The opening movements have their daring harmonic shifts heavily emphasized; the scherzos are so sharp in tone and full of energy that they seem to careen; the slow movements are transcendent and serene. And sample, if you want to sample, the finale of the String Quartet in C major, Op. 59/3, which is laid into with an intensity that has rarely been matched. Camerata's engineering is with the musicians every step of the way. So, with classical budgets the way they are, that full Shanghai Quartet Beethoven cycle may be a long time coming. Grab this release while you can.

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