Author Topic: Beethoven String Quartet Thunderdome: Ébène vs. Pražák  (Read 267 times)

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Offline Todd

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Beethoven String Quartet Thunderdome: Ébène vs. Pražák
« on: December 01, 2020, 06:40:38 AM »





This Beethoven year requires musical violence.  The Quatuor Ébène's 250th anniversary year set has squashed all new cycles released this year.  It's a monster.  But can the French ensemble best the Pražák Quartet, the heretofore reigning champs of (completed in the) twenty-first century Beethoven string quartet cycles?  I had to know.  And I had to make the stakes meaningful.  So I will conduct a shootout and then mercilessly destroy the pathetic losing set in a raging bonfire, letting the putrid fumes of melting plastic and failure expunge any traces of the mere existence of a sub-par set.  Or, I'll declare one better than the other.  I have not finalized plans yet.  No time to dilly-dally.


Op 18/1:

Pražák - The Allegro con brio is taken at a just so tempo, and the ensemble employs enough vibrato but not too much, and while playing with basically perfect ensemble, one gets to enjoy individual voices.  The second violin peaks out from behind the first with firm playing, for instance.  The Adagio has an almost Schubertian drama as delivered, while the Scherzo grooves nicely, with some extremely fine cello playing popping out.  Things close out with and Allegro where the violins and viola all glide along with an effortlessness one can't resist.

Ébène - The more closely recorded Ébène tinker with tempo more, playing the opening movement a bit faster overall, but also launching some phrases with greater acceleration.  The low strings sound even more distinct, and the cellist really delivers.  In the Adagio, the Ébène play with greater depth, pushing the bounds of early Beethoven or even Schubertian drama, right to something approaching late-LvB, and while it sounds wonderful, one may wonder if it is too much.  Maybe.  The Scherzo lacks a bit of the bite of the Czech ensemble, and the concluding Allegro doesn't glide along quite as effortlessly. 


Winner: Pražák
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Everything dies - Alien Bounty Hunter, The X-Files

Everyone dies - William Barr, United States Attorney General

Offline Todd

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Re: Beethoven String Quartet Thunderdome: Ébène vs. Pražák
« Reply #1 on: December 02, 2020, 05:30:08 AM »
Op 18/2:

Pražák - Starting off just a bit tart, yet also light and fun, in the Allegro, the ensemble moves the piece along with a 'roided Haydn feel.  The Adagio cantabile sections of the second movement sound beautiful and slightly elevated, but not too much, while the Allegro has speed and vitality in stark but gentle contrast.  The Scherzo starts sweet, and only gradually picks up some oomph, but not too much before receding back to something a bit gentler.  The concluding Allegro is all zippy, tight fun, with the low strings seeming almost to lead at times, and a viola that always sounds quite delightful.  Exceedingly strong.

Ébène - The Ébène start off slower and with a darker overall sound, though the violins make the higher register playing sound sweet.  The movement definitely sounds more laid back and polite, yet playful.  As in the first, there are more finely graded nuances and minor tempo shifts, though less here, and part of that results from the closer recording.  In the Adagio cantabile, the players really slow things down and elevate things.  It sounds more contemplative, and when contrasted with the plucky Allegro makes for a strong contrast, but the music sounds more disparate and less cohesive than with the Czechs.  The Scherzo comes off comparatively lighter and more playful, and the final movement is dispatched with an almost ridiculous ease and fun and easy rubato. 


Winner: Pražák
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Everything dies - Alien Bounty Hunter, The X-Files

Everyone dies - William Barr, United States Attorney General

Offline The new erato

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Re: Beethoven String Quartet Thunderdome: Ébène vs. Pražák
« Reply #2 on: December 02, 2020, 07:20:56 AM »
This is encouraging. I have the Pražák, but not the Ébène . How I love your diacritics BTW!

Offline grocklin

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Re: Beethoven String Quartet Thunderdome: Ébène vs. Pražák
« Reply #3 on: December 02, 2020, 06:54:42 PM »
Quartetto di Cremona should be in the running here as well.

Offline springrite

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Re: Beethoven String Quartet Thunderdome: Ébène vs. Pražák
« Reply #4 on: December 02, 2020, 07:11:29 PM »
This is encouraging. I have the Pražák, but not the Ébène . How I love your diacritics BTW!
You just want to save money. Admit it!
Do what I must do, and let what must happen happen.

Offline The new erato

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Re: Beethoven String Quartet Thunderdome: Ébène vs. Pražák
« Reply #5 on: December 03, 2020, 01:20:48 AM »
You just want to save money. Admit it!

I do and bow my head in shame.  But I love Todd's Beethoven postings even if they put me to shame.

Offline Pohjolas Daughter

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Re: Beethoven String Quartet Thunderdome: Ébène vs. Pražák
« Reply #6 on: December 03, 2020, 04:53:41 AM »





This Beethoven year requires musical violence.  The Quatuor Ébène's 250th anniversary year set has squashed all new cycles released this year.  It's a monster.  But can the French ensemble best the Pražák Quartet, the heretofore reigning champs of (completed in the) twenty-first century Beethoven string quartet cycles?  I had to know.  And I had to make the stakes meaningful.  So I will conduct a shootout and then mercilessly destroy the pathetic losing set in a raging bonfire, letting the putrid fumes of melting plastic and failure expunge any traces of the mere existence of a sub-par set.  Or, I'll declare one better than the other.  I have not finalized plans yet.  No time to dilly-dally.


Op 18/1:

Pražák - The Allegro con brio is taken at a just so tempo, and the ensemble employs enough vibrato but not too much, and while playing with basically perfect ensemble, one gets to enjoy individual voices.  The second violin peaks out from behind the first with firm playing, for instance.  The Adagio has an almost Schubertian drama as delivered, while the Scherzo grooves nicely, with some extremely fine cello playing popping out.  Things close out with and Allegro where the violins and viola all glide along with an effortlessness one can't resist.

Ébène - The more closely recorded Ébène tinker with tempo more, playing the opening movement a bit faster overall, but also launching some phrases with greater acceleration.  The low strings sound even more distinct, and the cellist really delivers.  In the Adagio, the Ébène play with greater depth, pushing the bounds of early Beethoven or even Schubertian drama, right to something approaching late-LvB, and while it sounds wonderful, one may wonder if it is too much.  Maybe.  The Scherzo lacks a bit of the bite of the Czech ensemble, and the concluding Allegro doesn't glide along quite as effortlessly. 


Winner: Pražák

 :laugh:  Or you could just donate it to a charity shop...or pass along to a friend?  ;)  Glad that you are enjoying the journey.

PD

Offline Todd

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Re: Beethoven String Quartet Thunderdome: Ébène vs. Pražák
« Reply #7 on: December 03, 2020, 05:34:59 AM »
Op 18/3:

Pražák - The Pražák see no reason to play too soft to start, adding edge, and more than a touch of vibrato from the first violinist, to the opening Allegro.  The calm and lovely Andante offers a striking contrast in style and sound, with very fine dynamic gradation in the piano-pianissimo range.  Some ensembles go for a slower overall tempo, but anything slower, and it wouldn't sound right.  The brief Allegro has a vigorous, dance-y feel, and then the Presto ups the vigorousness notably, though not too much.  Again, the ensemble knows when to back off, and overall executive excellence rates quite highly.

Ébène - The Ébène play a little more softly at the beginning, but then pick up steam quickly and push things a little more  The closer, dryer sound lets the second violin and viola take on more prominence than the Pražák, which is great for detail, less so for ensemble unity.  This holds true in the Andante as well, where the very clear, very distinct individual instruments allow one to savor each line, and the ensemble elevates style to at least middle period depth.  It comes close to being too much.  Close.  The Allegro sounds smoother and just as vibrant as what the Czechs deliver, while the Presto sounds a bit rougher, a bit more rustic, or a purposeful approximation thereof.  High grade stuff.


Winner: Pražák (a close run thing)
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Everything dies - Alien Bounty Hunter, The X-Files

Everyone dies - William Barr, United States Attorney General

Offline Todd

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Re: Beethoven String Quartet Thunderdome: Ébène vs. Pražák
« Reply #8 on: December 04, 2020, 06:45:02 AM »
Op 18/4:

Pražák - The Allegro ma non tanto maintains speed and edge, but also has a more relaxed feel than the earlier quartets.  Dig the viola.  The Andante scherzoso quasi allegretto (love the long designation) likewise comes off a bit gentler than before, with the ensemble displaying masterful, unified dynamic shifts.  Again, gotta say, the violist does good things here, even if he's not the center of attention.  The Menuetto sounds a bit more amped up, with a rigorous pulse and more fine corporate dynamics while the Allegro sounds tamped down a bit.  The same cannot be written about the Allegro, which opens with ample energy, and, yes, the violist keeping things tight, and the a general sense of forward momentum.  Curiously, though, while the Pražák can really cook if they want to, the do not unload, at least until the end. 

Ébène - The Ébène push the opening Allegro more than the Pražák, and the first violinist sounds edgier here.  They generate ample beautiful playing, with the second violin here doing some fine work.  The quartet back off in the Scherzo, and both low strings do good work, but the sense of cohesion does not seem as strong as with the Czechs.  The quartet almost really pushes the outer sections of the Menutto, offering high contrast with the gentler middle section.  They also push things in the final movement, at times generating a purposefully rough-ish sound, again, to create a bold contrast when the back off.  And of course they push the coda. 


Winner: Pražák
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Everything dies - Alien Bounty Hunter, The X-Files

Everyone dies - William Barr, United States Attorney General