02-14-2014 I bought this low cost Beethoven from Naxos in June 2012, and haven't learned it yet, but will review it notwithstanding. Since I'm such a greenhorn in this genre, I use the cheap Naxos disks as disposable CDs should I decided to collect a better quality performance. The Kodaly is a good en try level quartet for me to learn a work, and groups like the quartets of Cleveland, Italiano, Juilliard Fine Arts etc. are already on my shelves. Let's look at these two widely spaced works.
The String Quartet in a-minor, Op. 132 is first as it was composed in 1825, a mere two years prior to Beethoven's death. It has 5 movements and runns just over 42 minutes. The cello leads us into the first movement with a mournful a-moinr melody, soon join by the other strings. Marked Assai sostenuto, it certainly is sustained, but will move to an Allegro a bit later. Written in 1825, it postdates all his Symphonies, the epic Missa Solemnis and his entire set of Piano Sonati, and is thus, one of his late masterworksThe move from sostenuto to Allegro is gradual and I could not identify it as such but no matter. The storminess of this beginning 9 + minutes is a hallmark of late Beethoven, and even though the Sturm und Drang Period was near it's close, this work is definitely of that very nature.A second movement is labelled Allegro ma non troppo, fast, but not too. So, a little slower than the first part. The tone is , I believe in A-Major and this men's group, made up from four very fine Hungarian string players, weave in and around each other as if they had been playing together for more than 40 years. They have been k mon as the Kodaly since 1970, and , as I have long felt, this wonderful singing quality of Hungarian string musicians is consistently present in this recording. The performance was taped in the Phoenix Studios in Budapest in the winter of 1999. It was recorded in DDD technology by Naxos at that time. The mood in this 2nd allegro is a bit lighter than in the opening 9 minutes.
The center of this fine quartet is the 3rd movement marked Molto Adagio, then andante and runs a large 15:35. The composer had been ill the entire winter of 1824/25 with an undisclosed intestinal illness and had made a recovery from what he believed might be his demise. Thankfully he made it. The subtitle of this piece is, in English, " A convalescent's holy song of thanksgiving to the Divinity." Did Beethoven mean God? The reason I ask is that the Maestro was a Deist, like Jefferson, Locke, Madison and others left over from the Enlightenment. They spurned Jesus as the Son of God, something that is central to my Catholic faith, but questionable to intellectuals then as now. Still, he believed in the Almighty and even consented to the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, now known as the Sacrament of the Sick, in modern Catholic circles. He was Baptized at birth as a Roman Catholic and died "in the arms of the Church" as did so many who, in their final minutes of life returned to the "faith of their fathers." If you disagree with me that the composer did believe in God, then consider this. How does an ambiguous stand on this issue square with his towering master piece of liturgical music, the Missa Solemnis. I draw from this fact, an unequivocal resolution and I hold to it. This beautiful slow movement has a prayerful quality to it, personal and surprisingly private, which for Beethoven is notable. He generally did not disclose his inner feelings, except for the emotion of human love. Refer to the adagios from his last three piano concerti, or the 7th Symphony get a clue as to his deepest feelings. This music, also is a good portrait of the composer in meditative and secluded thought. Though Andante is slightly faster as a form, this really remains firmly in the Adagio tempo
THE 4TH movement is a sort of scherzo, and only takes the Kodaly 2:17 to present. Marked as an Alla Marcia, it is not as rhythmically pronounced as other of this tempo, but is mildly brisk, nonetheless. Near the end, there is a brief transition to an Assai vivace, but here again, the Kodaly stays in a more moderato range. It results in graceful and interesting material. There is no trio that I could identify.
The Finale is an Allegro appossionata running for a mere 6:44. This music in earnest and a tad urgent in tone, even a bit stormy I liked this late quartet, and will endeavor to learn it better in this new year, along with the nearby Op. 130, and 131, both better known to audiences and collectors alike. Now onto the other work on this Naxos CD, the early Quartet in F, a piece of a mere 12:17.
This 2nd string quartet was arranged,, not transcribed, for strings in 1798 and is based on the Piano Sonata in E #14, and it was re-keyed to F, from the original E-Major. It has three movements. The first is marked as Allegro moderato and lasts 6:06, the longest of the brief 3 movements. The theme is stated right off and then goes through a short development before closing at 6:06. This is about the time in his life that the composer began to notice hearing impairment, but it wasn't that pronounced as of yet. It also marks Beethoven's entry into his relationship with the Sturm und Drang Era, and this, coupled with his growing hearing loss, conspired to hinder his efforts. Beethgoven was a slow and meticulous composer, and he labored over every minute detail with great concentration and equally fine results. What emotional effect his growing malady had upon him is hard to discern, from a distance of over 200 years, but it must of been a source of immense frustration for him. His famous Heelingstadt document provides a good clue, but, as with everything concerning this greatest of composers, I find any scrap of information, regardless of size, to be of much interest for me. A hearing loss, regardless of it's severity, would of stopped most men in their tracks, but not the Bonn Master. This speaks to his resolve and determination, and perhaps to his religious temperament as well. If you were totally new to Beethoven and knew not one single jot about his life and times, you would likely to concluded, based on the music alone, that this was the greatest composer of all time, and a stalwart champion of sheer will and character. Not unlike Bruckner, whose music and persona differ so much, they were both very different men. The middle Allegretto is short and graceful, as allegrettos go, and behaves a bit like a scherzo, with a dance like rhythm and slightly recognizable lilt to the material. Cast in I think, f-minor, it is a little dark but subtly so. the very brief 2:53 is much too short for me. The finale, only slightly longer at 3:16 is a closing Allegro, with rapid and scurrying figures ala Vivaldi at it's core. It never really forms up and is over quickly.
The summary should say that the Quartet in a-minor is the gist of this CD, with the F-Major work acting as a filler, but there is enough in the Op. 132 to recommend this disk as I do. Most significantly, the Op. 132 has made me very curious regarding his other very late compositions, so I can recommend this Kodaly release with mild enthusiasm.
Happy listening to all, and God bless, as well, Tony.