In Beethoven’s late A-minor String Quartet standard sonata-form is changed and expanded: themes suddenly appear, basic rhythms alter and questioning phrases occur. The Tetzlaff Quartet displayed these characteristics by permitting the disruptive moments to speak for themselves. The players’ euphonious sound lent warmth to the challenging contrasts of the opening movement, and the following piece in minuet form – undanceable because the emphatic chords are rarely on the downbeat – was also given without over-emphasis: homage to Mozart albeit at a distance. An interpretation of Opus 132 centres on the Molto Adagio – entitled Heiliger Dankgesang – Beethoven’s hymn of thanks for recovery from illness. This immense creation was taken very slowly indeed; the two appearances of a stronger episode were treated firstly with potency and on the second more lyrically prior to the contemplative close. The angular Finale is not conventional either, its main body preceded by an Andante and a March.
Originally the Grosse Fuge concluded the B-flat Quartet, Opus 130. There is a theory that friends persuaded Beethoven to write an alternative Finale because the fugal movement is so complex. I find this unconvincing; Beethoven was not one to have his artistic visions altered by others, but he did consider the possibility for himself and when his publisher suggested this modification he agreed at once. The Grosse Fugue was published separately. Beethoven’s alternative is an extensive rondo, notable for its melodic content – a satisfactory resolution of the questions asked by the previous movements.
The Tetzlaff Quartet’s tendency towards legato phrasing was more evident: Opus 130’s arresting opening was given a very full sound and in the Allegro the frequent examples of syncopation were not greatly stressed, bold diversions left to speak for themselves. Warm, integrated sound did not suit the tiny Scherzo – at this very rapid speed the individual notes made little impact – indeed a listener unfamiliar with the music might have been hard put to identify the theme. Tonal richness suited the Andante con moto and the delightful Alla danza Tedesco benefitted from the full-bodied approach. The ‘Cavatina’ went swiftly and flowingly; beauty was achieved, underlying anguish not stressed. The Grosse Fuge can be effective as a Finale but the listener’s attention needs already to have been gripped in order to accept so extensive a work as a summation of the previous five movements. I felt that insufficient tension had been built in order for this complex music to represent an inevitable conclusion so, despite the unified richness of the sound, I confess to finding it overlong in the context of this large-scale composition.