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Hyperion Records

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Der Mittag (Midday) (1821) by Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840)
Schloss Charlottenberg, Berlin
Track(s) taken from CDA66403
Recording details: December 1989
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Arthur Johnson
Engineered by Tim Handley
Release date: January 1991
Total duration: 28 minutes 17 seconds

String Quartet in A major, Op 18 No 5

Allegro  [6'35]
Menuetto  [5'28]
Allegro  [6'25]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In the first movement we might not be far wrong in detecting a sardonic skit on gentle elegance — the form is simple, even primitive if we compare it with, say, Mozart's great A major Quartet, K464, where conscious intellectual mastery is displayed. Beethoven's almost casual lightness of touch has other aims — entertainment, and perhaps correction of the idea that he is always aggressive. As if to amplify the sense of ease in this graceful piece, he directs both main sections to be repeated — a rare device with him, to be resumed in the next quartet and again with much more powerful effect in the 'Appassionata' finale and the first movement of the E minor 'Rasumovsky' Quartet.

The Minuet (not a scherzo) comes second. It is still in A major and the elegance is continued, though with an abrupt excursion into a blunt C sharp minor in the second part, from which the gentle music reacts as if nothing has happened. The Trio consists of a beautiful tune enlivened by off-beat accents.

Any suspicion of casualness provoked by the first movement was already assuaged by the Minuet, and is now laid fully to rest in one of the finest of his early variation movements. Beethoven shows what can be done with a simple falling and rising fragment of diatonic scale. The D major theme is simplicity itself, but of striking beauty, and the first three variations animate it with growingly active figuration, the third strongly anticipated Schubert. The fourth variation is of exquisite calm and depth — the theme is intact but harmonised with surpassing sensitivity. Variation 5 returns to vigorous, even rough, activity and leads directly to a long and felicitous coda in which the scales are given in diminution (i.e. in shorter notes) producing an altogether new development, beginning in the magically remote key of B flat, from which the return to the tonic is delightful.

In the Finale we find much contrapuntal invention and a highly original quartet texture, with what by now we must expect in Beethoven, a magnificent sense of movement. The quicksilver motion is offset by a splendidly broad second theme that is carried with consummate ease by the general current.

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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