Sunday, 27 March 2011

Beethoven: String Quartets

We've been spending most evenings with the telly turned off, reading, knitting and listening to music. What crafty sophisticates we are! Preference is usually for less demanding, lighter sounds, but last night Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik stabbed us both in the ear with its saccharine vapidity. We were eating chocolates at the time too, petit Viennese-esque bon-bons, the TV ad of which was surely soundtracked by Mozart. Beethoven's early string quartets seemed a suitable alternative, not too big a leap, enabling us to perceive the development between the two composers. After enjoying the first one so much (Op.18 No. 1) we decided to do the whole lot, DVD boxset style. So - to one or two quartets, or CDs, a night, anxiously awaiting the thematic development to come in the next work. 'Anxious' might be stretching it, but it should be interesting, providing a structure to our otherwise pleasantly ambling evenings.
They're played by Quartetto Italiano, from a box set on Phillips I scored gratis while at Wesley Classics. Recordings are from the sixties and seventies and sound great. I look forward to the wacky later ones, but the earlies are worth a listen, infinitely richer and more varied than Mozart's, but also more demanding, less pretty.

We heard two quartets, 1 and 2 from his first Opus 18 set. I enjoyed the first more than the second, whose jaunty melodies seemed rather trite and contrived after the more adventuorus contrasting lines of the first. Turns out the first was actually written second, but placed first after Beethoven's confidence in its execution. The second was written third, and the third first, so hisearliest one next.
I'll not bore you with a blow-by-blow account of how this adventure proceeds, but I do encourage others to try similar boxset expeditions. All too often they sit, prettily, on the shelves, dauntingly authoritorial, gathering dust. Get them out, read the dry, informative liner notes, and listen up!

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