REVIEW: Beethoven: String Quartet in F major op.59 no.1 ‘Rasumovsky’; Shostakovich: String Quartet no.10 in A flat major op.118

Beethoven Armida

The Strad issue

May 2017

Description

Polarised choice of repertoire yields wide-ranging results

Musicians

Armida Quartet

Composer

Beethoven, Shostakovich

Catalogue number

AVI-MUSIC 8553368

Having made crisp and freshly minted recordings of Mozart, Ligeti and Bartók, this young German ensemble (winner of the ARD Competition in 2012) has turned to pillars of the old and new testaments of quartet literature, with mixed results.

The vivacity and grace of the ensemble’s earlier Mozart would have suited the scherzo of Beethoven’s first ‘Rasumovsky’. Here, jabbing accents, skittering runs and choppy phrasing mark an unremittingly tense, even nervy approach to a work that takes 
on the blood-red shade of a Macbeth-scaled tragedy. There is much effective use of non-vibrato colours in the abrupt transitions of the first movement’s development and the ringing purity of the Adagio’s first theme, but no sense of the clouds lifting into the finale.

The Armida’s slightly desiccated tone is better suited to Shostakovich’s Tenth Quartet. The ensemble catches exactly the wan smile of the ambivalent first movement and the dry, brittle humour of the second without recourse to pathos. A mature awareness of the intimate address needed for a studio microphone is evident throughout, but especially in the dynamic contrasts and stoic nobility of the Adagio, led by Martin Funda with the kind of supple and sympathetic melodic phrasing that would have been welcome in the Beethoven.

Peter Quantrill