Ehnes Quartet – Beethoven String Quartet No. 13, Op. 130 & Grosse Fuge, Op. 133 (2021)
FLAC (tracks) 24-bit/96 kHz | Time – 57:45 minutes | 1,04 GB | Genre: Classical
Studio Master, Official Digital Download | Digital Booklet, Front Cover | © PM Classics Ltd.
Like many musical projects planned for 2020, the plans of the Ehnes Quartet to record Beethoven’s late quartets underwent a drastic revision. Rather than cancel the project, some ingenious technology was employed. James Ehnes takes up the story ‘Our quartet was greatly looking forward to a week of recording in the United Kingdom in August 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible for us to travel to the UK, and for our UK-based producer, Simon Kiln, to travel to us. We were, however, able to take advantage of the wonders of modern technology by recording in the USA with Simon (producer Simon Kiln) monitoring the sessions in real time in London A fortunate benefit of not traveling overseas for these recordings was that the days we had scheduled for travel become additional recording days, allowing us to record all of Beethoven’s string quartets from Op. 74 onwards. The four CD’s we recorded during this intense two-week period will always be treasured reminders for us of a brief, bucolic window of artistic fulfilment during a terribly challenging period for the world’.
Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 13 in B flat major, Op. 130, is textually knotty in a way that few other Beethoven works are. Beethoven originally ended the work with the radical Grosse Fuge, Op. 133, heard at the end of this program by the Ehnes Quartet. It mystified audiences, and when it wasn’t encored at its premiere, the composer disparaged the audience with the exclamation “Asses! Cattle!” However, when a publisher asked him to provide a lighter finale, he agreed, and the jaunty, Haydnesque piece he contributed would be the last composition he completed. In reality, the two finales represent differing solutions to the structural problems Beethoven posed himself, and neither is better or worse than the other; the Ehnes Quartet does well to simply provide both. It is not only the Grosse Fuge that is radical; the opening movement with its seemingly intractable opposition of two blocks of material, is equally so, and the rest of the work ratchets down the tension, either returning to it with the Grosse Fuge or continuing the tension-reduction process with the published finale. The dynamic is exceptionally well realized here. First violinist James Ehnes brings unusual lyricism to the central movements, taking some time for them to breathe, although the Grosse Fuge has a quick clip. The opening movement is intense without over-the-top violence; one can really hear what Beethoven’s audiences heard in it. This recording was made in 2020 at an auditorium at Mercer University in Georgia, with the producer in virtual attendance from London, and given the challenges, it turned out extremely well on all counts.
01. Ehnes Quartet – I. Adagio ma non troppo – Allegro
02. Ehnes Quartet – II. Presto
03. Ehnes Quartet – III. Andante con moto, ma non troppo. Poco scherzoso
04. Ehnes Quartet – IV. Alla danza tedesca: Allegro assai
05. Ehnes Quartet – V. Cavatina. Adagio molto espressivo
06. Ehnes Quartet – VI. Finale. Allegro
07. Ehnes Quartet – Grosse Fuge, Op. 133