The Strad Issue: January 2011
Description: The Artemis Quartet brings a deft touch to the last instalment of its Beethoven quartet cycle
Musicians: Artemis Quartet
Composer: Beethoven

There are times when one wishes Beethoven had given his lyrical impulse freer rein, as at the start of the enchanting opening movement of op.18 no.5, which soars briefly aloft contentedly before the inevitable process of thematic transition begins. Mind you, so enraptured is the Artemis Quartet’s playing here that the (intended) abruptness of Beethoven’s structural interfaces glide by with sleight-of-hand inevitability. If the prevailing tendency in Beethoven’s string quartets is to emphasise the vertical axis with brows furrowed intently, the Artemis players ‘sing’ even the most contrapuntally hyperactive passages of the finale, imbuing each phrase with an irresistible sense of forward momentum. Rarely has Beethoven of any genre or period been played with such a deft touch.

Of all the op.18 quartets, the mood-changes of the third are the most difficult to integrate convincingly, yet the Artemis players’ gentle intensity, cushioned staccato and immaculate timing works wonders in emancipating a quartet that is often (unintentionally) hammered into submission. It was an inspired idea to couple these early gems with op.135, an axiomatic work that looks backwards affectionately to Beethoven’s Haydnesque roots and forwards to a new stylistic compactness that was tragically left unexplored. Once again the Artemis musicians play with such mellifluous ease and interpretative perspicacity that it becomes difficult to imagine at the point of contact this music being played any other way, especially as the engineering is so truthful and engaging. Highly recommended.