Beethoven's Complete String Works in a Ten-Disc Collection
Beethoven: Complete String Quartets, Quintets, and Fragments. Endellion String Quartet: Andrew Watkinson and Ralph de Souza, violins; Garfield Jackson, viola; David Waterman, cello; with David Adams, viola (Warner Classics)
This Endellion Quartet’s freshly scrubbed and emotionally healthy new Beethoven cycle, a ten-CD set, complete with the two quintets and assorted odds and ends, uses a gorgeous new edition prepared by Jonathan Del Mar for Bärenreiter that includes intriguing restorations of original notes, rhythms, slurrings, articulations, and other markings. Throughout the cycle, presumably in response to the rethinking that the new edition enables and encourages, the Endellions show a preference for epigrammatic phrasing in which rests serve as almost tangible structural markers. As a result, speeds, dynamics, and expressiveness can be manipulated without either interrupting or forcing the music’s flow, creating an open-throated, affectation-free approach in which each of the four lines participates fully.
Time and time again, at notoriously critical points where tricky technical challenges coincide with key musical transitions, the group finds a collaborative solution which not only breaks with tradition but is musically persuasive (and often surprisingly sensible) without compromising Beethoven’s integrity.
The most sustained example of this is the Grosse Fuge which has rarely been played with such clarity, power, and exaltation. Others of the numerous examples include the pizzicato passages in the “Harp” quartet, which have never made so much sense, and the return to the coda after the last variations of the third movement of Op. 18, No. 5, in which the contrasts between Beethoven and his model, Mozart, are brilliantly, almost heartbreakingly drawn. This is one time you will want to listen to the performances with a score in hand. With these performances, the Endellions compete with cycles by the Prazak, Italiano, and the early 1960s Juilliard quartets. The sumptuous recordings, made in various UK venues, are accompanied by an extensive and thoughtful essay by Misha Donat.
In addition to this set, the Endellions are celebrating their 30th anniversary (and the 800th of Cambridge University, where they have been in residence since 1992) with commissions from Robin Holloway and Roxanna Panufnik, involvement in a new documentary film about Beethoven, performances of Haydn’s Seven Last Words incorporating text by Andrew Motion, and an Auden evening. In its free time, the quartet gives lecture-demonstrations teaching teamwork, leadership, and other business-related skills.