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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: 26 minutes 23 seconds

String Quartet in B flat major, Op 18 No 6

Allegro con brio  [6'25]
Scherzo: Allegro  [3'28]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Extreme contrasts characterise the B flat Quartet, perhaps an anticipation of the great Opus 130 in the same key. But care is necessary in such comparisons. In the late Quartet Beethoven was almost certainly influenced by the format of the old suite with its many movements, especially when ending the work with the Grosse Fuge. Beethoven was always attracted by the problems posed by strong contrasts and in the last of the Opus 18 Quartets he is trying out the possibilities of disparity of character between the movements. It can with some justice be argued that the experiment is not fully successful (if it were it would be no longer an experiment) and that the final Allegretto is not quite the response called for by the extraordinary 'La Malinconia', with its amazing modulations and gripping pathos.

But the work as whole cannot lose its fascination. Nothing could be more exhilarating than the powerfully sprang first movement with its spare textures and the abrupt and economical nature of its harmonic movement. As in the A major Quartet, both halves have to be repeated if the dancelike character is to be properly stressed. This exuberant piece is followed by a soberly ornate slow movement in E fiat, with touches of mystery here and there, serving to relieve the general tone rather than to search depths.

One of Beethoven's most astonishing scherzos follows. Its remarkable rhythmic disruptions could have occurred at any time in his life, and if this piece had cropped up in one of the late quartets nobody would have questioned it. The Trio displays a wild and difficult violin solo, a phenomenon we find also in the trios of Opp 130 and 135.

A slow introduction, 'La Malinconia', full of daring shifts of harmony and texture, begins the last movement. It is justly one of the most celebrated passages in early Beethoven — he asks for it to be played with the greatest delicacy. It recurs later in the course of the following cheerful major movement, which may possibly have its origin in one of Haydn's weaker finales, the one in the 'Sunrise' Quartet, Op 76 No 4, of which the surprising and (for Haydn) rare helplessness is not improved upon by Beethoven. Maybe Beethoven's cheerfulness should not be thought of as a cure for the melancholy — perhaps it is part of it, with its sense of helpless circling. But we must avoid special pleading. Whatever we may feel about the conclusion of the B flat Quartet, the whole is a work of genius.

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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