Sunday 24 March 2013

Audite’s first release in a new cycle of Beethoven String Quartets from the Quartetto di Cremona in performances of fluency, sparkle and passion

Audite Records seem to have an uncanny knack of recording some of the best chamber music players in Europe. In April 2012 I reviewed the wonderful Swiss Piano Trio’s recording of Mendelssohn’s Op.49 and Op.66 piano trios then, in January this year, came their terrific recording of Clara Schumann’s Op.17 Piano Trio coupled with coupled with Robert Schumann’s Op.110 Piano Trio and Fantasiestücke Op.88.

In July 2012 came the Mandelring Quartet’s first volume of their projected complete Mendelssohn chamber music for strings, followed in January this year by volume two. Such are the performances that both of these recordings look set to make this the Mendelssohn quartet cycle to have.

Now Audite have signed up the Quartetto di Cremona to record the complete Beethoven String Quartets. This will be no mean undertaking given the competition already out there. Nevertheless, on the evidence of the first release in this series, the Quartetto di Cremona look set to bring much to this new project.

Audite 92.680
The Quartetto di Cremona formed in 2000 at the Stauffer Academy in Cremona and continued their studies with Hatto Beyerle. In 2005 the Quartetto di Cremona received a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship.

Building on their early successes, the Quartetto di Cremona has played to critical acclaim at the most important venues and festivals in Europe including numerous performances at the Wigmore Hall, London. The Quartetto di Cremona has toured extensively in Australia and performed at the renowned Perth International Art Festival Australia. In the USA, they recently won the eleventh Web Concert Hall Competition. The Quartet was nominated "Artist in Residence" at the Societa' del Quartetto of Milan and will be involved in various projects culminating in 2014 for the 150th anniversary of the Societa' del Quartetto when they will perform the complete cycle of the Beethoven quartets.

Recent and forthcoming tours include engagements in the USA, Japan, Mexico and China and in Europe the Quartetto di Cremona will tour the UK, Italy, Scandinavia, Germany, and make a debut tour of Austria. Their debut recording for Decca encompassed the complete string quartets by Fabio Vacchi, released in April 2011.

The first release in this projected cycle gives us the String Quartets Op.18, No.6, Op.95 and Op.135.

In the allegro con brio of the String Quartet in B flat major, Op.18, No.6, the Cremonas bring light and vibrant playing, with plenty of verve and, at times, gritty playing. There are some beautifully phrased passages where they bring a special something to this Haydnesque work. The adagio brings some really expressive playing and it is lovely the way the individual players respond to each other. Towards the middle there is some lovely hushed playing and, before the reprise, the sharp little fortissimo is beautifully done. The Cremonas playing, in the syncopated scherzo, is full of passion, with ensemble spot on. These players are so alive to the music. They fairly throw themselves into some passages in some stunning playing. When the finale arrives moving between adagio, allegretto quasi allegretto and prestisimmo, the Cremonas play off the varied moods beautifully. When the movement finally settles on the allegretto they have a lovely bounce to their playing. The fiery prestissimo sounds so inevitable. 

There is a really fiery start, with plenty of grit in the allegro con brio of the String Quartet in F minor, op.95. The Cremonas handle the emotional changes superbly. The allegretto ma non troppo slow movement opens a feeling of great anticipation with some lovely quiet string sounds as the movement develops. As ever more complex harmonies are added, these players bring some lovely sonorities, particularly in the final fugal passage. In the Scherzo the quartet are magnificent, with playing of such spirit, precision and understanding. The trio section brings out again their lyrical nature with playing of sensitivity and some lovely interplay. After the short larghetto introduction that leads to the allegretto agitato, the Cremonas lovely textures again appear. The playing is so full of feeling and their terrific ensemble is again apparent. The Cremonas dynamics have such an elastic feel and the odd little coda runs away delightfully.

Finally on this disc we come to Beethoven’s last String Quartet in F major, Op.135. In the allegretto there is a lovely little questioning opening. The Cremonas bring such beautiful little phrases to this constantly changing movement, with the players taking advantage of every little phrase and nuance, at times sunny, then anxious and questioning, finding every little subtlety. The scherzo, vivace has a lovely bouncing, syncopated rhythm played with fluency, precision and sparkle, full of passion and joy. From the start of the lento assai e cantante tranquillo glorious textures emerge with these players subtlely adding layers of emotional depth as the variations ensue. This is a quite beautiful movement. The questioning of the first movement is reflected in the opening of the finale, grave, ma non troppo tratto – allegro with the question taken in the bass register and the upper strings replying quietly. The allegro section has some nicely incisive playing and, when the grave returns, the Cremonas excel themselves in playing of power and depth and, as we are led to the allegro again, the recapitulation is fresh and confident.

It is the individual voices of these players that are so beautiful as well as the way that they interact so naturally. Listening to the CD layer, they are extremely well recorded with every instrument well balanced in a wide soundstage.

I look forward immensely to the next instalment of this cycle.

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