Although the Auryn Quartet has been together for two decades, this release has provided my first exposure to the group. I trust it will not be my last. In every way these are distinguished readings. Recorded in 2002 and 2004, those of Nos. 14 and 16 are here, I believe, making their first appearance; those of No. 13 and the Grosse Fuga (the latter featured as the original finale—the later one following on a succeeding track) having been previously issued (Tacet 38). This release is tagged, "Volume 4 of 4," which evidently implies that the Auryn will be recording a cycle of Beethoven’s quartets. If this set is any indication, it should be a traversal that will hold its own with the best. Everything here commands one’s attention. Sonically, this is as realistic a reproduction of a string quartet as I have ever encountered. Closely miked, the resulting perspective puts the group smack in one’s listening room, with each musician clearly positioned. Yet no extraneous breathing is audible. Moreover, the dynamic range is uncommonly wide, impact in the loudest passages being especially forceful, the hush of the softest ones uncommonly clear, even when they are hardly more than a whisper.

Of course, this would all be for naught were the performances not so compelling. In the main, the Auryn’s pacing is middle of the road, sometimes a bit broader, other times a bit faster than that of other accounts by the Emerson, Talich, Cleveland, Vermeer, and Tokyo Quartets. But pacing is not the key issue here. The Auryn’s tempos always seem just, in good measure because of the group’s exceptionally clean playing, even in the most rapidly articulated passages. Then too, internal balances are carefully adjusted so that in sustained chords, for example, one can distinguish each voice. This is most welcome in the Grosse Fuga, where the clarity of polyphonic texture underscores how, in an almost spooky way, the music seems to foreshadow Bartók. Even when, on occasion, a tempo is somewhat unorthodox—the comparative fleetness of the fourth movement of No. 13 and breadth of the fourth movement of No. 14—the Auryn’s pacing sounds right. And nothing is ever pushed too hard, the finale of No. 14, for example, gaining impact by being a bit broader than in the admirable accounts of the Emerson and Tokyo Quartets. And although I prefer the Emerson’s somewhat fleeter account of the slow movement of No. 16, the greater breadth of Auryn’s certainly has merit. Indeed, in the Cavatina of No. 13, many may prefer the Auryn’s breadth to the faster pace of the Emersons. Especially impressive is the conversational clarity of the four voices in the opening fugue of No. 14. Exposition repeats are observed in the first movement of No. 13 and the finale of No. 16. Certainly for those who collect multiple versions of this repertoire or are plunging into it for the first time, this is a release well worth considering.
Mortimer H. Frank

<< back