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12.1.05

Dip Your Ears, No. 21 (Op.14 for String Quartet)


available at AmazonL.v.Beethoven, Complete String Quartets,
Gewandhaus Quartet
NCA



available at AmazonL.v.Beethoven, Complete String Quartets,
Gewandhaus Quartet
NCA

I had heard mixed things about the Gewandhaus-Quartett's Beethoven string quartets on the little Swiss label NCA. Or, to be precise, I had heard fairly unflattering things. The tenor was: "Why bother?"

The new issue of Fanfare reviews the complete set and comes to a different, much kinder conclusion. I paraphrase: "Not a first, much less 'only' choice—but interesting for those who know the works well and want to hear the works in a different way." Well, Tower Records had some of the issues (the late quartets) in the clearance section, so I picked three up at $5.25 each. The Fanfare review is better than anything I could write... and accurate enough for all I can tell. The point I wish to make is one I have not seen commented upon elsewhere, namely the inclusion of Beethoven's own transcription of his op. 14, no. 1, E major piano sonata for string quartet. No other cycle of LvB string quartets I know of includes this oddity, nor—off the top of my head—do I know of single discs that do.

This is a fine semiprecious thing to enjoy, not just for completists. Beethoven hated most transcriptions of his works, and judging from what he had to say about particular transcriptions (of his works, by others), he felt downright raped by them. Still, he did a few himself (the Violin Concerto—twice—the 4th Piano Concerto, the 2nd Symphony, Die Grosse Fuge), and in this transcription he took considerable pride. Rightly so, because without altering the work much (it's transposed up a semitone to F), he manages to make it sound as though it had always been a string quartet (especially the first movement). And for what would have been his first work in the genre, it's a very fine specimen, too!

Whether you love the piano sonatas or the quartets, it is worth looking into it—at least (or especially) at the clearance price. (Last I looked, there were a few more copies at the 2000 Penn Tower.)

Edit: RIP Tower. Also: The singe disc in question is out of print and used copies more expensive than the entire cycle. That cycle, it turns out, is one of the most consistently pleasing Beethoven String Quartet cycles out there, and it is finally offered in a normal sized box that actually fits in CD shelves. (See above.)

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