Philips - 1 LP - 6500 647 - (p) 1973
Philips - 3 CDs - 420 046-2 - (c) 1989

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

String Quartet No. 5 in A major, Op. 18 No. 5
29' 26"
- Allegro 6' 38"

- Menuetto 5' 21"

- Andante cantabile 10' 55"

- Allegro 6' 32"

String Quartet No. 6 in B flat major, Op. 18 No. 6
27' 20"
- Allegro con brio
6' 23"

- Adagio ma non troppo 7' 28"

- Scherzo (Allegro)
3' 26"

- La Malinconia (Adagio - Allegretto quasi allegro - Adagio - Allegretto - Poco adagio - Prestissimo)
10' 03"

- Paolo Borciani, Elisa Pegreffi, violino
- Piero Farulli, viola
- Franco Rossi, violoncello


Luogo e data di registrazione
La Salle des Remparts, La-Tour-de-Peilz (Svizzera) - 22-30 luglio 1973

Registrazione: live / studio

Producer / Engineer
Vittorio Negri | Joost Humeling, Gerard Janszen

Prima Edizione LP
Philips | 6500 647 | 1 LP | (p) 1973

Prima Edizione CD
Philips | 420 046-2 | 3 CDs - 54' 02" - 47' 25" - 57' 28" - (3°, 1-4 , 5-8) | (c) 1989 | ADD

L'edizione in CD contiene anche i Quartetti Op. 18 nn. 1, 2, 3 e 4.

This conjunction of six string quartets under one opus number, with echoes of similar groups of works by Mozart and Haydn, raises the question of relationship between the works themeselves, and between them and the corresponding works of the two great Viennese Classical master who had such an influence, both directly and indirectly, on the young and struggling artist Beethoven in his first years in Vienna.

The link with Mozart is very clearly seen in this A major Quartet. An unmistakable pointer to the original model is given by a transcript in Beethoven’s own hand of parts of Mozart’s Quartet in A, K. 464, preserved in the Nydahl collection in Stockholm. Certaninly, there are no direct echoes, but there are quite obvious analogies of form. Mozart, too, had turned around the two inner movements, with an Andante in variation form following a minuet.
While the opening movement of Beethoven’s A major Quartet to a large extent follows traditional lines, the minuet and trio bears the author’s mark, unmistakably, from the disarming simplicity and smoothness of the opening to the effective episode in the minor which leads back, in an expressive crescendo, to the opening of the minuet; and we beed only a few bars of the trio, a heart-stirring Viennese waltz melody with ravishing sforzandi on the weak third beat, to recognise Beethoven in his element. This diverting movement leads beautifully into the third movement, inscribed Andante cantabile, a theme and variations – a form wich was to remain a favourite with Beethoven from his youthful “Dressler” Variations to the “Diabelli” Variations of his late years. This variation form, however, goes back not only to his Mozartian model, but further to Haydn’s D major Quartet, Op. 20 No. 4, which Beethoven must also have known; at all events we can still see today, in the Beethoven House in Bonn, his transcript of Haydn’s Op. 20 No. 1 Quartet. Here, fugal expositions at the beginning of the first variation, which are not however developed, hint at an increasingly polyphonic style. The fourth variation bears the unmistakable print of the master’s hand. It begins with a calm, almost chorale-like recapitulation of the theme, but this time the chordal accompaniment, originally quite semple, is much richer in harmony and colour.
Against this the fifth variation sets an outburst of elemental power, a foreshadowing of that creative afflatus which was to produce the late piano sonatas and the late quartets. Its successions of linked trills, its rough sforzati, its dotted rhythms, seem to prefigure the Grosse Fuge, Op. 133. The finale is in more conventional style, and lacks his individual touch. Even here, however, it is noteworthy how a tiny theme can assert itself; emerging in the first two bars, it is played by the solo instruments in turn, and in the last four bars it has the last word, this time on the cello.

The Quartet in B flat, not merely the last in number, but the most advanced in this Op. 18 set, repeatedly reminds us of its nearness to the Piano Sonata in B flat, Op. 22; sketches for both appear in fact together on the same sheets of manuscript. As well as the obvious coincidence of key, and the same trmpo indication, Allegro con brio, the first movement of each work bears signs of wrestling with fragmented material. The Adagio, a type of movement in which the young Beethoven already excelled, is here almost completely lacking in his individual quality; its only original and effective touch is a modulation, in two bars just before the end, from the prevailing key of E flat to C, whose expressive power is achieved by detailed dynamic instructions which brilliantly compress thedevelopment into the smallest possible space.
In the high-spirited scherzo it is obviously Beethoven’s intention to confuse players and audience by masterly shifts in the centre of gravity of the music, and unexpected stresses on the weak beat, the whole effect being strengthened by retardations amounting to syncopation. The movement ends with a fluent, lightly and freely sketched trio in the style of the period. The finale which follows is quite simply one of the great leaps forward in Beethoven’s quartet writing, a fitting crown for this first set. When we consider that Beethoven very seldom gave names to his compositions – names like “Moonlight” or “Appassionata” were not bestowed by him – the authentic label “La Malinconia” (Melancholy) deserves our particular attention; to it is added the note, in italian: “This piece must be played with the greatest delicacy.” One cannot help thinking of the tragic circumstances of Beethoven’s life at this time – his growing deafness of wich he was increasingly conscious, and about which he wrote an affecting account to his friend Amenda, that same friend to whom he wrote a dedication in his own hand on the title-page of a transcript of the Quartet in F, Op. 18 No. 1. The movement begins with a gloomy, almost eerily atmospheric section with chromatic progressions and sudden dynamic changes, contrasts heightened by unusually wide intervals. This mood, however, does not last. The slow introduction proves to be only the prelude to the suddenly erupting Allegretto, a stirring and infectious section which gives to the whole movement its feeling of brightness and joie de vivre. Once again, however, the gloomy tones of the opening interrupt the joyous flow of the Allegretto, and threaten to swamp it: buti t refuses to be stopped, and ends in  a furious Prestissimo. This short dialogue, this interruption of the smoothly flowing stream, this blend of the calm and the tragic with the lively and boisterous, was to be equally characteristic of the late piano sonatas. The dynamic of the movement, though, - a perpetuum mobile – more closely resembles works nearer in time like the middle-period sonatas, immortal creations such as the “Moonlight,” the “Waldstein,” and the “Appassionata” Sonatas, which have won unalloyed acclaim from Beethoven’s time till our own day.
Hans Schmidt
Beethoven-Archiv, Bonn

The Quartetto Italiano is deservedly one of the most renowned quartets of our time. It was as long ago as 1945, soon after completing their studies, that Paolo Borciani, Elisa Pegreffi, Piero Farulli, and Franco Rossi, resisting the tempting promise of individual career sas soloists, decided to pool their youthful enthusiasm and musical talent and devote themselves to the difficult but satisfying art of playing chamber music really well. By 1947 the group had established a firm reputation in  the musical press and begun giving concerts outside Italy. In 1951 they visited the United States for the first time, and it was soon apparent that their devotion to their music and the impeccable standards of performances they had set for themselves were earning them fame as well as satisfaction. Over the years since 1945 they have remained together, a rare example of team work in music.
To list the group’s wide-ranging activities in more than 25 years is pointless: they have done everything one might expect of one of the world’s finest quartets. They have given hundreds of concerts all over Europe and in the United States; they are regular partecipants in the chamber-music concours of many countries; and they have played and are in constant demand at the world’s great music festivals. Outside the concert circuit the members of the quartet teach chamber music at both the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm and the Conservatoire in Vienna.
In addition to the many words of praise bestowed on them – after their first concert in New York, Virgil Thomson, the distinguished critic of the “New York Herald Tribune,” called them “the finest quartet, unquestionably, that our century has known” – they have been publicy honoured by the President of Italy as a more tangible recognition of their outstanding artistic services over the years to  Italy in particular and the world of music in general.