Artemis Quartet: Beethoven - Complete String Quartets

The excellent Artemis Quartet embrace Beethoven's experimental string quartets with beautiful tone and a gripping urgency

Composer:  Beethoven
Repertoire: String Quartets Nos 1 & 12 
Artists: Artemis Quartet
Rating:  5/5
Genre: Chamber
Label: Virgin Classics 628 6590

The Music: Beethoven’s Quartet No.12 unleashed his final sequence of five string quartets that reinvented the form as a conceptual work-in-progress – structures were filleted, harmonies stretched, technique nudged away from the boringly ‘possible’. But even the psychological dramas of Beethoven’s First Quartet obliged the blueprint inherited from Haydn and Mozart to buckle. 

The Performance: And for the Berlin-based Artemis Quartet, Beethoven remains forever a provocative experimenter. The group’s take on the String Quartet No.12 resists smoothing over its uncomfortable, disconcerting juxtapositions of material: the Adagio’s funereal atmospherics suddenly flip over into a blithe rustic dance – then back again – like a gross intrusion into grief. Their tone is beautiful, but with a clear distinction made between expression and decoration. The First Quartet is gripped with similar urgency. 

The Verdict: Explosive! The Artemis’ thoughtful, assertive interpretations plug us into Beethoven’s radical core. They cast Beethoven as an instinctive Modernist.