Given a couple of personnel changes, and with a few more years under their bows, this new CD needs little time to assure us that they remain a formidable ensemble, their reputation for getting everything they can out of their instruments intact. The members each bring a personal excitement of their own that gives listening to these works a particularly thrilling edge.
Beethoven under this scrutiny is a figure strong enough to withstand assault at the same time as receive veneration, and they have no fear of subjecting him to both in equal measure. In other words, the Artemis Quartet are prepared to do whatever it takes to dig to the heart of his music. This they do by giving 100 percent in their playing. They start with an early quartet – the last in the opus 18 set – that rattles wildly, and strikingly good-humouredly, free of any limitation imposed by coming so soon after Mozart and Haydn had been working their hardest on that particular model.
It runs for 28 electrifying minutes, hurtling without ceremony straight into Beethoven’s maturity with his massive 46-minute opus 130, by which time he had so many ideas to get out that he needed to add almost as much again to the standard quartet pattern to make it happen. Marvellous.