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Classical - Released May 15, 2020 | Warner Classics

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 4F de Télérama
The Quatuor Ébène timed this round-the-world Beethoven cycle to coincide with Beethoven's 250th birthday in 2020, beginning a worldwide tour and fortunately completing it before the outbreak of the pandemic in that year. The cycle was recorded in Philadelphia, Vienna, Tokyo, São Paolo, Melbourne, Nairobi, and finally Paris. CD buyers get a combination of travelogue and set of work descriptions, but it's not clear that the performances were influenced in any way by the globetrotting. This is, however, a very strong Beethoven set, with full-blooded performances perhaps unexpected from a group that made its name with French quartet music. Credit, first of all, goes to mastering engineer Fabrice Planchat, who followed the group around the world with a portable studio, recording, according to the ambiguous note, "live and in rehearsal" (there is no audience noise). The sound retains some of its original characteristics, including in an acoustically inferior Alliance Française Auditorium in Nairobi, but is stitched together into a coherent whole. The Quatuor Ébène generally offers high-intensity readings that relax at times into passages of passionate rather than delicate lyricism. In the String Quartet No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 131, the Allegro molto vivace of the second movement may seem to leave no room for the Presto of the fifth, but the group makes it happen. The late quartets as a whole are extremely compelling, with the group catching the odd mixture of comedy and existential dread in the String Quartet No. 16 in F major, Op. 135, and delivering a heartfelt "prayer of thanks of one who has recovered to the Godhead" in the slow movement of the String Quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132. An unusual feature among the late quartets is that the String Quartet No. 13 in B flat major, Op. 130, concludes with the Grosse Fuge, Op. 133, the work's original finale, rather than the finale on which Beethoven eventually settled. The early quartets get weighty readings that place them at the forefront of Beethoven's stylistic development rather than in Haydn's orbit; listen to the alternatively lovely and grim "La Malinconia" finale of the String Quartet No. 6 in B flat major, Op. 18. No. 6. Curiously, two of the three Op. 59 "Razumovsky" quartets are placed together on a single disc rather than being evenly distributed, but these too follow the pattern of fast tempos and high-energy readings. It may be that the Quatuor Ébène did not need to travel the globe to accomplish this, but the group's Beethoven cycle compels attention. © TiVo