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Hyperion Records

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Landscape with windmills (c1823) by Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840)
Schloss Charlottenberg, Berlin
Track(s) taken from CDA66402
Recording details: December 1989
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Arthur Johnson
Engineered by Tim Handley
Release date: June 1990
Total duration: 23 minutes 17 seconds

String Quartet in D major, Op 18 No 3

Allegro  [7'27]
Andante con moto  [7'52]
Allegro  [3'06]
Presto  [4'52]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The D major Quartet is one of the gentlest of Beethoven's earlier works, certainly in its first three movements, and its subtlety will not be noticed by those who tend to patronise his first quartets. Take the very opening, for instance — the first two notes of the violin and their continuation in quietly flowing quavers over a very deliberate chordal ccompaniment could easily be the start of a slow movement. We realise only after a while that the motion belongs to an allegro. Beethoven's control of movement shows already a high degree of maturity, clearly proved in an opening to which no parallel can be found in Haydn or Mozart. It is a beautiful beginning and the rest of the movement fulfils its promise. The part-writing in later quartets produces greater democracy than here, but the music itself could hardly be bettered in the ease and certainty of its flow, while the sidelong approach to the dominant in the second group (through C major and A minor) has unobtrusive originality. The development is not long, but its approach to the recapitulation is unexpectedly dramatic, through the dominant of F sharp minor, later powerfully intensified in the Second Symphony (in the same key).

The easeful B flat Andante is a rondo. As Basil Lam points out in the BBC Music Guide to the Beethoven quartets, the twelve-bar theme 'is constructed with great subtlety; the melody, begun by the second violin, is taken over and repeated by the first before the statement has been completed'. The smoothly flowing figuration of the theme is prominent in most of the movement, and Beethoven's use of contrasting harmonic areas prevents this fact from pre-empting the always welcome returns of the theme itself. At the centre is a rich development.

Quietly flexing strong muscles, the Scherzo is unaggressive and its D minor Trio decorates a four-note descending bass. Sustained brilliance in this Quartet is reserved for the finale, in a fast six-eight time. Its key and rhythms create the temptation to compare it (of course unfavourably!) with the finale of Mozart's D major Quintet — but in this case it must be Beethoven who wins the palm for sheer mastery of movement. Mozart's theme sits down with dangerous regularity, while Beethoven's flies at once into the sky, alighting when and where it wishes, and the length and size of Beethoven's paragraphs and the energy with which they are infused can be found only rarely in other composers. Here it also generates rieh and vigorous polyphony in the overwhelmingly energetic development.

from notes by Robert Simpson © 1990

Other albums featuring this work
'Beethoven: String Quartets' (CDH55021/8)
Beethoven: String Quartets
MP3 £24.99FLAC £24.99ALAC £24.99 CDH55021/8  8CDs Helios (Hyperion's budget label) — Deleted  
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