The genius of Beethoven is probably not most commonly associated with chamber music. Indeed, for considerable stretches of his career he avoided the string quartet, a musical form with such an exalted status at the time; he mostly took on the challenge towards the ends of what are often regarded as his two ‘creative periods’. When he did, however, he was at the pinnacle of his chamber music abilities.
The pieces in this collection can be grouped according to three distinct periods of Beethoven’s life. The first set are to some extent indebted to Haydn and Mozart – as the melancholic Op.18 No.6 shows in particular – but equally show Beethoven starting to forge a new path of his own. The (at the time) somewhat misunderstood middle set stretch the quartet form to near-symphonic length, and add a level of virtuosity worthy of the concert hall rather than the traditionally private sphere of chamber music. Finally, the last set transcend the composer’s previous quartets both in form and harmony to reach a level of technical abstraction that was not recognised for its brilliance until after the composer’s life – a quality audible especially in the quartet in B flat major, which Beethoven’s biographer referred to as a ‘monster of quartet music’.
The pieces are performed by the Suske Quartett, a German quartet whose popularity was at its height in the 1970s, and for whom recording Beethoven was a staple of their musical life: the recording career of the group’s original line-up both began and ended with Beethoven pieces.
- The complete Beethoven String Quartets, featuring one of the elite ensembles of former East Germany: Primarius Karl Suske was concert master of the Berliner Staatskapelle, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, and his string quartet represents the best German tradition of Beethoven understanding and interpretation.
- Recorded in the 70’s, and having lost nothing of its grandeur and patina. The recording is of excellent quality, the golden standard of the Eterna recordings.
- Booklet contains notes on the music and a biography of the Suske Quartett.