Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Beethoven : "Harp" and "Serioso" quartets – Belcea Quartet

The Belcea quartet go from strength to strength. Something seems to have happened to them in the last few years that has caused both a remarkable deepening of their interpretations and the development of a very characteristic quartet sound. One of the most striking features of the sound is the dynamic range that they span, running from a whisper that is always articulate to a full-throated fortissimo that is still rich and full in its tone.

But the interpretations are what arrested me. I first came across them from their live Bartók quartet performances, and was on the edge of my seat throughout. 

Now they are embarking on a complete Beethoven quartet cycle, and luckily for us they are performing the quartets in concert extensively before they commit them to the studio. 

Just this week, the news broke that EMI (Every Mistake Imaginable) has abandoned their Beethoven quartet project, following its takeover by some vast music holding company called Engulf and Devour, or All Your Copyrights Are Belong To Us or some such. 

The good news is that the Beethoven cycle will instead appear on the ZigZag label, which will mean that the quartet will have the benefit of committed engineers, producers and designers, and will have the creative freedom that you get from a small company run by zealots. I'm delighted, and the quartet cycle is on my shopping list whenever it appears!

In the meantime, I am hoping to make a few converts to the Belcea cause. Here they are in two of Beethoven's middle quartets: the Harp (Op 74) and the Serioso (Op 95). Both were recorded at Wigmore hall concerts this year. If this doesn't completely convince you, I'm going to have to upload two late quartets as well. In fact, I should do that anyway.

Recorded from BBC Radio 3 high-resolution internet stream (320 kbs)

Quartet Op 74 from Mediafire
Quartet Op 95 from Mediafire


  1. Oh yes, you should upload the late Quartets too! (Please. Thank you.) Thank you for this and the high quality of your blog in general. Your comments are always well-written and insightful taking the site far beyond the usual, "leave a comment if you like it" type of thing. I don't download everything you post, but I do read all your commentary. Please accept my, admittedly, tardy congratulations. -- Progress

  2. Thank you. I second Progress' request for the late quartets.

  3. Progress: I don't mind at all that about 250 people a day visit the blog silently. I didn't write the music, and I didn't perform it. I'm just trying to pass along the works of composers and musicians that have given me pleasure. And the occasional comment from people like yourself, whose blogs I dip into with great pleasure) is more significant than anonymous thank-yous.

    Piero: I am listening! Next couple of days will see the B flat and E flat late quartets. I cannot think of a more wonderful feast for the ears.