With works that have been recorded time and time again, the question is always “so what’s different?” The key point of difference for the Eybler Quartet here is a simple one – tempo. Beethoven’s metronome marks have caused controversy for years, with the argument going that his tempos can’t possibly be accurate since they’re incredibly fast. Performances by even the most well-known quartets of yesteryear ignore Beethoven’s markings in favour of a more sedate pace.
Here, the Eybler Quartet play the first three quartets of Beethoven’s Op. 18 set. Well, there really is a substantial difference in the tempo. By contrast to other interpretations, the Eybler Quartet seems like they’re playing everything with the fast-forward button held down. It took me a while to adjust to the “new” tempos, but the result is convincing. The Eybler Quartet’s ensemble playing is impressively powerful, and I liked the fact that they’re quite willing to push the boundaries of strict precision to achieve the speeds required.
A knock-on effect of all this is that the impression of dazzling virtuosity is greatly boosted. Sections that in another recording might be convivial are now fiery, quick concluding movements are now fiendish, and so on. Rhythms used as a unifying device are easier to hear, giving a real lift to pieces we’ve heard many times before. Social media tells me that they’ll be recording the remaining quartets soon. Can we speed our way to that one too, please?