This is the third instalment in the Tokyo Quartet’s complete Beethoven quartet cycle, and heady stuff it is. The op.74 Quartet is often seen as a gentle work, coming amid the might and severity of its neighbours. For the Tokyo Quartet it is a red-blooded piece, with a strong narrative drive and many a vivid theatrical gesture. The breathless mystery of the opening Poco adagio certainly presages drama, and after the easy charm of the exposition the players generate considerable power in the exposition and excitement in the extended coda. There is tension in the Adagio, in which they make much of Beethoven’s shifts of key, and a rawness to the prestissimo trio of the third movement – the whole movement played, as seems the custom nowadays, as if Beethoven’s marking were simply ‘As fast as possible’. The contrast between variations in the finale is pointed. This is a compelling and often gripping account.
The dramas of the F minor Quartet are plain on the surface, but the Tokyo Quartet goes at them with a passion, using biting rhythms, snapping sforzatos and aggressive fortissimos. Even the gentle second movement has an urgency to it, moving quickly from tenderness to intensity. The notes of the dotted-rhythm figures in the third are severely clipped to allow the rests within to register, and much of the finale is neurotic and restless. It is a powerful, wrenching performance. The Tokyo’s sound throughout has great body to it, born of a resonant acoustic, close miking and frequently generous vibrato.