Beethoven: The Middle Quartets

Quartetto Italiano

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Beethoven: The Middle Quartets Review

by James Leonard

With tonal breath and depth coupled with ensemble clarity and virtuoso flexibility, the Quartetto Italiano's early-'70s recordings of Beethoven so-called "Middle Quartets" are models of postwar chamber music performance practice. In each of the three enormous Op. 59 quartets plus the intensely lyrical Op. 74 quartet and the fiercely dramatic Op. 95 quartet, the Italiano articulates every marking in the scores with exemplary lucidity but expresses the human heart of the music with consummate sensitivity. Compared with other ensemble's recordings, the Italiano's "Middle Quartets" may seem too lush, too warm, or even too beautiful for some listeners, and for them there are the rigors of the Alban Berg Quartet's recordings or the intensities of the Quatuor Végh's recordings. But the undeniable brilliance of the playing and the incontestable profundities of the interpretations will surely win over all but the most obdurate critics, particularly in these incredibly clean and unbelievably present stereo recordings by Philips.

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