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Beethoven - Abq Vol. 2: Quartets Live (Alban Berg Quartett) [DVD]

In 1989, the Alban Berg Quartet, then in their prime, but now sadly disbanded (2008), gave a series of live concerts encompassing all of Beethoven’s String Quartets in the Konzerthaus of their home city, Vienna, where they all served as professors at the Academy of Music. It is something of a miracle that this encounter between what many would claim to be the greatest music ever written, and one of the 20th Century’s finest quartets, was superbly filmed and recorded by ORF, and made available to music-lovers all over the world by EMI.

Each volume has two discs. The first disc of Vol 2 begins with Op 127 that ushers in the last five and greatest of the quartets.. The two middle movements were free of this fault, because their compositions were so very different. The instruments weaved their way in and out through intricate patterns usually involving no more than 2 or 3 at a time, apart from the climaxes. The results were sheer magic, at their very best in the quietest sections of the score, when the flexible harmonic lines and the minor but exquisitely nuanced volume changes took your breath away.
The rest of the disc was taken up with Op 59 No 1, first of the middle-period Razumovsky quartets. Its technical demands are less than those of Op 127. Its 2nd movement includes some delightfully playful passages that were artfully performed by all four players with a real sense of humour. The slow 3rd movement once again showed their skill in handling music of pure poetry, and the seamless transition to the final movement was beautifully effected.

The second disc contains three works. Op 18 No 2 was played with confident exuberance. I was a bit apprehensive about Op 95, because it has some of the most vicious ensemble work in any of the quartets, but they brought it off quite successfully, and without the roughness that jarred me somewhat in Op 127. I expected an outstanding performance of Op 132, and I got it.

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