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After all this, Beethoven ought to be as comfortable as he is familiar, but his late quartets always challenge players and listeners alike. The Fry Street Quartet produces a very fine account of the A minor quartet but one that is a touch too sweet for my taste.

Beethoven heeded no tradition but his own by the time he came to these late quartets, and no-one followed him into this territory until nearly a century later. In style-history terms, then, Op 132 might be considered as 'modern' as it is 'classical' or 'romantic.' Fry Street seems to want it to be simply 'romantic', to blunt its sharp edges and warm its moments of alienation; the result is a diminished expressive range if, admittedly, a very appealing sound [listen -- CD1 track 9, 0:00-0:58].

The group has no such problem with the Quartet Op 18, No 5. A product of Beethoven's early Viennese years, the work is very Haydnesque in scale, style and interpretation [listen -- CD1 track 1, 0:02-1:26].

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Copyright © 19 February 2006 Malcolm Tattersall, Townsville, Australia

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