MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger



Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
String Quartet Op. 18, No. 4 in C minor (1800) [23:32]
String Quartet Op. 59, No. 2 in E minor (1805) [35:54]
Artemis Quartet. Natalia Prischepenko (violin I) (Op. 59 no. 2), (violin II); Gregor Sigl, (violin I) (Op. 18 no. 4), (violin II); Friedemann Weigle (viola); Eckart Runge (cello).
rec. 13-15 February and 5-7 May, 2008, Teldex Studio, Berlin. DDD
VIRGIN 3802682 [59:43] 


Experience Classicsonline

I understand that many authorities insist on identifying works by opus number instead of a traditional ordinal numbering system. In many cases this is because grouped opus numbers are not necessarily written in the number they are ordered. For instance, Beethoven’s string quartet Op. 18, No. 4 is not necessarily the fourth quartet he wrote. Some musicologists even think it may have been his first. But, for all that, opus numbers can be as confusing and meaningless as any other arbitrary number or name. So is it really worthwhile to eschew traditional ordinal numbers? For those, like me, who don’t have excess brain storage space in which to carry around encyclopedic lists of various composers’ catalogues in their heads, this disc of string quartets contains Beethoven’s Fourth and Eighth. 

Setting that debate aside, this new release by the Artemis Quartet is rather good. It doesn’t necessarily elbow any of my favorites out of the way, and I do have reservations in a few places, but it continues to point toward the rise of the Artemis into the ranks of major artists. It also comes as good ear food for listeners hungry to hear the state of the performing art in the early twenty-first century. Beethoven playing is the best it has been since the heyday of the mid-twentieth century, when objective playing first came into energetic vogue but before it had degenerated into faceless neutrality. 

In the Fourth, the Artemis Quartet strikes a satisfying stylistic balance between Beethoven’s classical roots and the powerful heights of his future musical visions. By comparison, the Juilliard is much more reserved and classical, whereas the Cleveland seems contrastingly extreme, searching for late Beethoven in a work that can handle it, but arguably doesn’t need it. In a sense, the controlled balance and a certain darkness of sound by the Artemis reminds me of the Guarneri, but with faster, more alert tempos. 

The first movement, marked “Allegro ma non tanto,” is marked not merely by a smartly chosen tempo, but by animated phrasing and crisp but not clipped full chords. The lyrical second theme is given in tempo, keeping it clearly in the shadow of the urgent main theme. The “Andante scherzo quasi allegretto” is given the pointed, humorous phrasing necessary to bringing off this experiment in crossing a scherzo and a slow movement. The Artemis brings nervousness to the fore in the following “Minuetto,” channeling energy into tight ensemble playing. The trio is more relaxed, almost anticipating Mendelssohn’s airy style. The finale is balanced to allow a little expressive room in its various episodes, leaving it perhaps a little less headlong than it could be, though there is great animation in the appropriate places. A headlong tempo finally kicks in for an exciting dash through the coda. 

Beethoven’s Eighth Quartet is the second of the set he dedicated to the Russian Count Razumovsky, and honors him with the quotation of a Russian folk tune in the Scherzo. This work is one of my absolute favorites, and I was eager to hear what this young quartet had to say in it. 

The first movement starts off a bit grimly, without as threatening a punch as some of the superstar quartets make, though with an effective leanness of tone brought about by playing those stark opening chords (and their later reappearances) without vibrato. The Artemis soon lashes into the bridge leading to a sweet but anxious rendition of the lyrical second theme. It wouldn’t bother me if the quartet had “opened up” a few more moments with the occasional pause for breath, which they do here in a few places, but not many. The slow movement is given an effective, hymn-like shape, without being allowed to sag into damp drifts. The secret is in the nicely sprung rhythms underpinning the melodic effusions. Happily, the Artemis goes for a brisker than traditional scherzo, far better relating the movement to the first and last than the overly cautious rate that has been common through most of the last century or so. But it must be admitted that the trio comes off a little desperate at this speed. Some will find it unsettling, others will find it invigorating. I’m inclined to think Beethoven would have liked it just fine. 

So far, so good. But I have some serious reservations about the finale. The Artemis comes close to going off the tracks in a number of places here, though they are hardly the only group to run into problems in this quirky movement. The presto tempo (or is it Beethoven’s later-added metronome mark?) often goads quartets into pushing the tempo past the point of rhythmic stability. I suppose one could defend a little rhythmic instability as a sort of emotional volatility, but in a movement dominated by twitchy rhythm, unsteadiness can become aggravating. The Artemis paces the movement so fast that they are constantly on the edge of instability. They fudge the tempo slightly up and down to get all the notes in at one spot, then rush it in another spot, leaving short notes lost in a general wash of sound. Going right to that edge means that they have no room to flex their muscles within that tempo, and it also means that when they get to the faster coda, it’s pretty much guaranteed that there’s going to be some scrambling. And there is. The dash for the final bars becomes slapdash, and they can’t quite maintain the daredevil tempo, giving it a sinking feeling, just when it should be going through the roof. 

But in running aground on this movement, the Artemis is far from being alone. It may simply be that I’m too fussy, because I also have found myself dissatisfied with such ensembles as the Juilliard, Smetana, Tokyo, Cleveland and others in this tetchy movement. In fact, my all-time favorite rendition of the finale comes from a rather obscure group more known for their Bartók than their Beethoven. The New Hungarian Quartet  was formed at Oberlin College in Ohio in 1972 after the disbanding of the original Hungarian Quartet, Zoltan Szekeley’s great ensemble. Violist Denes Koromzay was the common thread in both ensembles, and he continued the tradition of a more contained, classical quartet sound at a time when the rest of the world was reveling in the big, luscious sound of such quartets as the Cleveland and the Tokyo Quartets. They recorded a handful of albums for the small Vox label in the 1970s, before Koromzay’s passing disbanded the group. Now that period instruments have swept through the landscape and given our ears a good scrubbing, the big, juicy groups now sound distinctly high-calorie, whereas the leaner approach of the New Hungarian Quartet sounds more authentic. Alas, not all of the NHQ’s moments are as finely gauged or energized as this finale though at Vox’s bargain price, their moments still remain worth having. 

What I particularly like about the NHQ is the way they stage manage this finale. To avoid sounding hectic or desperate, they choose a tempo that is broad enough to allow room for tremendous attack without sapping drive or falling apart, but at the same time is fast enough to feel energized. The secret is in the sprung rhythms, which make the music feel fast even though it’s over a half-minute slower than the racing versions. This tempo allows for a powerful outlay of energy during the last reappearance of the rondo theme, without slowing the tempo. This is followed by a tightening of pulse so exciting that it makes it seem as if the group had just pushed to a point beyond which they would have collapsed into chaos. The players of the NHQ hold their biggest gamble until their final card. The Artemis players, on the other hand, gamble too much, too soon, dissipating energy instead of gathering it up for the final push. But if they live with this music and learn how to better channel it some day, then watch out, this group could give us a great Eighth. 

For now, my preferences between these two interpretations leans towards the Fourth. The recorded sound is spacious but clear, a touch distant and cool. 

Mark Sebastian Jordan


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing




Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Past and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Return to Review Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.