Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Alban Berg Quartet: Beethoven, op 131 Finale

This is part two of my review of three different recordings of the last movement of this great string quartet. The introduction is here and part one is here.

The Alban Berg Quartet are even more Viennese than the Amadeus Quartet as they were all young professors at the Vienna Academy of Music in 1970 when they formed the group. Named after the composer Alban Berg which was a suggestion of Berg's widow who attended one of their earliest concerts, they made their early reputation with excellent recordings of Berg's Lyric Suite and the Viennese classics. They were considered one of the great string quartets of our time. The quartet disbanded in 2008.

I was lucky enough to have some contact with them in 1988 when they played all the Beethoven quartets at the Salzburg Festival where I was studying with Pepe Romero. I attended a rehearsal and a concert but, I'm sorry to say, I don't recall which quartets they played! I do recall that during the rehearsal they were working on an octave passage in a minuet. They got it almost perfectly in tune then the first violin, noticing some string professors from the "Mozarteum" standing in the back, said, "ah well, that's good enough for Salzburg!"

Alban Berg Quartet

The duration of this recording is 6:28, just two seconds shorter than the Amadeus at 6:30. The Emerson are quicker, as one might expect, at only 6:17. Here is a link to the recording I am listening to:

This is now out of print and has been reissued in this version which I believe is identical apart from packaging:

The Viennese style manifests itself here in a clarity and warmth and, again, a lyric quality. The recording is better than the early-60s Amadeus version, as expected, which might explain why some details tend to stand out a bit more. The Alban Berg performance is clean and accurate: no glissando on the augmented seconds, more crisp non legato scales, better defined subito fortes. It seems to me that the first violin has just a tiny tendency to anticipate the beat sometimes, but it is barely noticeable. Occasionally I hear a harshness in the upper register, but I suspect that might be due to the fact that the recording was made in 1984. The audio CD was only commercially available from 1982 so this is at the dawn of the technology. In the early years a lot of people commented that the sound, compared to analog, was harsh and brittle.

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