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The Yale String Quartet
BEETHOVEN: THE LATE STRING QUARTETS, VOL. 2
(Vanguard Classics/Artemis)
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The Yale Quartet is the straightest of the straight when it comes to playing late Beethoven. Its interpretations ó recorded for the Vanguard label in the late 1960s and early 1970s ó aim for unobtrusiveness, trying to present the music simply and without affect. The players donít linger over cadences or climaxes; everything moves and appears as a whole. At its best, this approach gives the music a sense of naturalness and flow that stands in stark (and welcome) contrast to the awkward, overeager phrasing that characterize recordings like the Emerson Quartetís. The justly famous recording of the great C-sharp minor quartet, Opus 131, shows this approach off to best effect. Some important musical events might seem to pass by unremarked, but the music accumulates quietly and subtly, and the ending is all the more exalted.

The A-minor quartet, Opus 132, comes off almost as well, with its great slow movement given just a touch of rubato to let it breathe. Only Beethovenís last quartet, Opus 135, disappoints. Here the musicís humor and wisdom need more character than the Yale offers, and the performance often comes off as brusque. And thereís some shady intonation now and then, especially in the first two works. Still, itís good to have these works back in the catalogue, thanks to indie giant Artemisís reissuing of large portions of Vanguardís pioneering releases.

BY DAVID WEININGER


Issue Date: May 7 - 13, 2004
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