Sunday 16 June 2013

Some Beethoven to treasure as The Allegri Quartet celebrate their 60th anniversary with the first issue of a new Beethoven quartet cycle for Vivat Music

The legendary Allegri Quartet celebrate their 60th anniversary this year. Britain’s oldest chamber group, the Allegri Quartet was founded in 1953 by Eli Goren, William Pleeth, Patrick Ireland and James Barton.

Successive generations have sustained the Quartet over six decades, the current members being Ofer Falk and Rafael Todes (violins), Dorothea Vogel (viola) and Vanessa Lucas-Smith (cello). Over the decades the Allegris have worked with composers such as Benjamin Britten, Michael Tippett, Elizabeth Maconchy, John Woolrich, Anthony Payne, James MacMillan, Matthew Taylor and Alec Roth. The Allegris have premièred more than 60 works since 1964, including specially commissioned pieces.

The Quartet has collaborating with other artists including such illustrious names as Jack Brymer, Clifford Curzon, Dame Thea King, John Ogden and Gervase de Peyer. Their numerous international festival appearances have included Aldeburgh, Edinburgh, Prague Spring, Berlin, Hong Kong, and Stavanger.

The anniversary celebrations will include complete Beethoven cycles in Switzerland and in the UK, two World Premieres of quartets by Alec Roth, for the Salisbury International Festival and Malvern Club and a host of celebration concerts throughout the UK.

Vivat Music will release this week a new Beethoven quartet cycle with the Allegri Quartet. This new release will feature the String Quartets Op.18 No’s 3, 4 and 5.

Beethoven began work on his Op.18 quartets in 1798 but, due to extensive preparation and revisions, they were not ready for publication until 1801. The order of composition appears, from Beethoven’s sketchbooks, to have been No.3 in D major, No.1 in F major, No.2 in G major, No.5 in A major and No.6 in B flat. No.4 in C minor is difficult to place given that there are no sketches for it in any extant sketch books, but some Beethoven scholars believe that it may date to earlier than the other five of the set.

The Allegris open the Allegro ma non tanto of the Quartet in C minor, Op.18 No.4 with a remarkable care and crispness.  They bring a classical feel to this quartet together with some lovely singing string tones, full of passion when required.

There is an exquisitely played Andante scherzoso quasi Allegretto with more of the Allegri’s finesse and care and some lovely little dynamics and a beautifully taut Menuetto: Allegro, so joyful with a lovely, shimmering trio section. When the first subject reappears the contrast is lovely. In the Allegretto,  the Allegris loosen their grip and really bite into the music, with some terrific sounds and  a lovely rubato. There is terrific interplay between players and, when the coda is reached you realise how well the Allegris have paced this performance.

What a beautiful opening there is to the Allegro of the Quartet in D major, Op.18 No. 3 with lovely sonorities and fine dynamics. These players seem to enjoy playing together as they weave around each other. There are some lovely, long drawn phrases and wonderful dynamic playing at the climaxes, full of lovely timbres. The Andante con moto brings such superb playing. The Allegris have so much finesse in the quiet moments, yet the rich textures they bring as they move along reveal a power that so affectively contrasts. After a lithe little allegro, with fabulous phrasing and ensemble, there is a sunny Presto with superb playing, full of energy, yet observing every little nuance and turn, bringing such life to the music. There is terrific playing as the music dashes towards the coda with a real lightness of touch.

In the Quartet in A major, Op.18 No.5, the Allegris bring some lovely rhythmic playing in the unusual phrasing of the allegro. They have a real bounce to their playing. There is a lovely classical poise from the Allegris in the Menuetto with a trio section that brings an earthier feel, somewhat Haydnesque.  The beautiful Andante cantabile receives such a sensitive, beautifully drawn opening with the Allegris bringing an almost playful character to some of the variations. They seem in their element extracting all the little details and changes that these variations bring. In the beautifully paced Allegro they really move the music on, with some terrific playing that brings this quartet to a close.

There is some Beethoven playing here to treasure. Whilst the playing of the Allegri Quartet has so much finesse they are never lacking power and emotion.

They are given a first rate recording in the intimate acoustic of The Menuhin Hall, Stoke d’Abernon, England that brings out every texture from these fine artists. 

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