If you know about chamber music in general you probably know that Beethoven’s last String Quartets are considered among the most sublime and intensely personal chamber works of all time. There of course have been many recordings of them over the years. Here is a new version (Signum Classics SIGCD733 3CDs) by the Calidore String Quartets and it has a freshness to it that helps it all rival the most acclaimed versions, to my mind.
The music is astounding fare, strength-after strength from the 12th Quartet through the 16th and the grippingly profound Grosse Fugue. It is all here and each is given the sort of loving care each deserves. What is most remarkable about the Calidore Quartet’s extended focus through it all is how they manage to express all the deep introspection that Beethoven put into these quartets. And they do so without an ounce of excess expression, no heart-on-sleeve desperation so much as a transcendance of human hubris, a springing through vast canopies of structural presence with extraordinary gravitas and panache.
But more than that ever, as you listen, does it all come to you with impeccable spirit. Sometimes Beethoven’s last String Quartets will break your heart as at times you feel he is saying goodbye and he was. Yet nobody took leave of life with such beauty and grace as he. The classic bio claimed that there was thunder sounding all around him when he passed. It probably did, for he was more than mortal.
These performances do as much as any to convince you of the depth of his last music. Bravo.