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Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, November 2009

…these youthful works by the budding Beethoven are surely worth knowing, and it’s unlikely there will be another recording of them anytime soon…the music is worth it.

Perry Tannenbaum
American Record Guide, November 2009

Take your pick among Beethoven’s three piano quartets and you’ll find that major recordings are fairly rare. Collections  of all three are rarer still…Listening to this new Naxos set, played with winsome new zeal by the New Zealand [Piano] Quartet, I felt this latest exhumation to be entirely justified and enjoyable. Even Piano quartet 3, which was the actually written first, has an instant appeal that pianist Richard Mapp calls forth with spontaneity and zest. There is no mistaking the subordinate role of the strings, but here too the backing of the New Zealanders is spirited and joyful. The recording is beautifully balanced down there in wellington town Hall, and violinist Yury Gezentsvey and violist David Maurice harmonize deliciously with each other.

Following the chronology of composition, the New Zealanders place Piano quartet 1 in the middle of their program. I’ve forgiven myself for liking it the best of the bunch. It begins with a lovely Adagio that has grave passages for violin and viola with heavy lyrical cargo that Mapp ardently caresses. Perhaps the lift-off that follows in the Allegro is melodramatic to an adolescent fault. But this is Beethoven, even if we’re hearing it in crude, unrefined form—and it’s irresistible fun, professorial quibbling be damned.

It’s prudent to judge Piano Quartet 2 the best-crafted of the group, for the cohesiveness of piano and strings in the opening Allegro is a sizeable leap beyond the opening of Quartet 3, with textures—and bite—that indicate a keen absorption of Haydn. The Andante has many attractions flowering from its pulsating seriousness and makes judicious use of pizzicato. But the closing rondo, in 3/4 time, is the charmer. The smiles on the faces of the New Zealanders are almost audible.

They have caught Beethoven in a lighter, more relaxed mood than usual. Thanks to this ensemble’s auspicious debut, so have we.

Colin Clarke
MusicWeb International, June 2009

This is interesting repertoire. Beethoven’s Piano Trios are far better known than his Piano Quartets, the latter of which do not even own opus numbers. Beethoven was a mere fifteen when he wrote them. They are clearly the work of a precocious talent. This Naxos issue has presented the works in what it believes to be the original order. Artaria published them in the numbered order, posthumously.

The slow movement of the first, if heard without warning, is sure to raise an eyebrow. The theme is that of the slow movement of the Piano Sonata Op. 2/1 of 1793–95. A transitional phrase from the first movement similarly reappears later elsewhere, specifically in Op. 2/3. The first movement is bright, with much fizzing passagework. The finale mirrors the first in that it is joyful and carefree.

The E flat Quartet begins with a slow movement: Adagio assai. It is an extended utterance of some depth, far too expansive to be construed as a slow introduction to the fiery Allegro con spirito that follows. The sedate, tranquil, cantabile theme that heads the finale is subjected to a sequence of generally gallant variations—there is one stormier variation, the fifth. The work’s close is deliciously witty.

Finally, the D major. This is not the brightest D major, rather one that seeks to explore a variety of different shades, so more carefree sections rub shoulders with more intense moments. The central Andante con moto is warm and welcoming, while the finale’s theme celebrates its own deliberate naïveté.

Well worth exploring, therefore.

James Leonard, June 2009

Written when the composer was only fifteen, Beethoven’s three Piano Quartets, WoO 36 nevertheless bear many of the characteristics of the mature composer in their strong harmonies and persuasively argued forms. There are moments that directly prefigure his early piano sonatas, such as the graceful transitions in the opening movement of the C major Quartet, and the dramatic tone of the central Allegro con spirito from the E flat major Quartet. But essentially, these are tuneful, well-made works of an extremely talented young composer who admired, and to a degree, emulated the works of Mozart and Haydn. Recordings of the quartets have been rare, so this disc by the New Zealand Piano Quartet will be welcomed by listeners looking for more from Beethoven than merely his canonical works with opus numbers. (WoO is an acronym for “Werk ohne Opuszahl”—Work without opus number.) With a bright tone, an easy ensemble, and a well-balanced blend, the New Zealand musicians make the most of the music, finding beauty in its youthful impetuosity, and hints of the genius to come in its occasional audacities. Though not in the same class as the venerable 1969 recording with Christoph Eschenbach and the Amadeus Quartet, this disc will be welcomed by devoted Beethoven fans looking for a supplemental set of performances.

Naxos’ sound is a bit dry, but otherwise quite realistic.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, May 2009

It has been a very long time since these wonderful works had been recorded in their entirety, so this new release by the New Zealand Piano Quartet—and what a great and spirited one!—is warmly welcome. Penned by the 15 year old Beethoven, they are clearly works of genius, even if (understandably) heavily influenced by Haydn and Mozart. The New Zealanders play stylishly, vigourously and with great tone and benefit from outstanding recorded sound. Most warmly and highly recommended!

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2009

Three piano quartets, unpublished in Beethoven’s lifetime, are of historic importance as early examples of a genre that became prominent in later generations. Those who ask why we have become besotted with everything from famous composers will point to a set of piano trios from a fifteen-year-old that could have been written by any reasonably competent 19th century kapellmeister. Beethoven was flexing his young muscles, and though already achieving much, these scores are simply a solo voice with other instruments providing the accompaniment. He had yet to master dialogue and interplay, and as juvenilia would never have expected them to be published. Still, there is much to enjoy in the vivacious Rondo to the third numbered of this group, and it was a brave choice to use a theme and variations for the finale of the first. Of international origin, the New Zealand Piano Quartet are a well-established group who play with a nice sense of style, and if phrasing in the opening movement of first quartet is rather lumpy, tempos are generally well-gauged, and the overall quality balanced. The recording is of agreeable quality.

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