This box set from the Artemis Quartet marks Virgin Classics’ first complete cycle of Beethoven String Quartets. Over the past two seasons, the Berlin-based Artemis Quartet has been performing Beethoven around the world, prompting reactions such as this one, from Die Zeit: “The members of the Artemis come as people who live life, and life is what they seek in Beethoven too.”
The first of the Artemis Quartet’s Virgin Classics CDs of Beethoven Quartets was released in Autumn 2005. Now, nearly six years later, the complete Beethoven cycle becomes available in a box of 7 CDs (TBC) which includes two previously unreleased items: the quartet No 10, op 74, known as the ‘Harp’, and a transcription for string quartet, proudly made by Beethoven himself, of the Piano Sonata No 9, op 14.
The 2010-11 season has seen the Artemis Quartet continuing with its two-year focus on live performances of Beethoven. By the end of the season, the ensemble will have recently performed Beethoven quartets in, among other cities, Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt, Munich, Vienna, London, Paris, Brussels, Rome, Milan, Florence, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Houston and Los Angeles, and at the Schubertiade festival in Schwarzenberg (Austria).
Eckart Runge, cellist of the Artemis Quartet, expresses the players’ views on the composer’s quartets: “His music speaks to every era – it is a perfect dialogue between tradition and modernity, and between intellectual refinement and raw emotion … In relation to the time in which he lived, Beethoven is the most modern, provocative, experimental and boldest composer of all. Many have used the string quartet to experiment, to trial and develop their mode of composition … but none of them was more extreme than Beethoven. Even today, the Grosse Fuge remains one of the most incredible and most modern pieces of music ever written … No matter how complicated the form, one can always find essential human emotion in Beethoven, whether it is hopeful longing, apprehension, exuberant joy or shy affection.”
Beethoven’s extraordinary musical evolution is traced in the cycle, which remains the touchstone of the quartet repertoire. Die Zeit observed that the Artemis Quartet is: “An ensemble that, when compared to groups on a similar level of perfection, seems to approach the repertoire from another horizon. Many quartets convey an air in their playing of rarefied workmanship and detached refinement from the world. They explore the music within the notes. The members of the Artemis come as people who live life, and life is what they seek in Beethoven too.”
The Artemis’s debut release on Virgin Classics in 2005 comprised Beethoven’s op 59/1 and op 95, while the second release brought together op 59/2, the ‘Razumovsky’ Quartet, and the Quartet op 18/4. In France, the release was named CHOC of the Year by Le Monde de la Musique and was also awarded a Diapason d’Or; in Germany it became Chamber Music Recording of the Year in the ECHO Klassik awards of the Deutsche Phono-Akademie. In the UK, the Sunday Times praised the “fresh, positive responses” of the Artemis Quartet, saying: “ … their colours are vivid and they are alert to the music’s intent to push all sorts of boundaries to breaking point,” while BBC Radio 3’s CD Review suggested that the recording should go to the top of any list of recommendations
“their playing of the fugue [of Op. 130] is so staggering that this version must be heard. And their view of these quartets as a glimpse into the composer’s private emotional “diary” is compelling, especially in the late quartets, which they rightly treat as avant-garde music — as shockingly modern today as it was in Beethoven’s lifetime.” The Sunday Times, 1st January 2012