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The members of the Tetzlaff Quartet, who recently released their first Beethoven disc, talk to Tom Stewart about what’s really behind the composer’s late quartets, about why they’ve taken a quarter of a century to record any Beethoven – and the challenge of keeping up appearances
I arrive to meet the Tetzlaff Quartet at a 1950s radio building on the outskirts of Bremen, where the players are rehearsing the playful final measures of the third movement of Beethoven’s op.130 String Quartet in B flat major. The Sendesaal’s studio was the first in Germany to be suspended entirely within another structure, and in its crisp and mellow acoustic, the quartet’s feet never seem to touch the ground either. Quick staccato scales, fidgety motifs and snatches of singing melody overlap in a texture that takes flight into the upper reaches of the hall and hovers above us as the players repeat the same giddy phrases over and over again. The warm and affable group – violinists Christian Tetzlaff and Elisabeth Kufferath, violist Hanna Weinmeister and cellist Tanja Tetzlaff – is two days into a four-day recording session for its new disc, which comprises Beethoven’s op.130 quartet featuring its original finale, the ‘Grosse Fuge’ op.133, plus op.132 in A minor. They are among Beethoven’s biggest chamber works, each containing an entire galaxy of expression as well as some of the most ambitious music he ever wrote. Recording all three in one go is a massive undertaking.
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