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Exquisite Beethoven for 2020 with the Parker Quartet

Parker Quartet
Courtesy of the Ensemble
Parker Quartet

The GRAMMY winners, in residence at Harvard, offer up a thrilling recording of three of Beethoven’s string quartets for the composer’s 250th anniversary year, and we've chosen it as our CD of the Week.

This year marks Beethoven’s 250th birthday and his music is getting stirred up in every conceivable way. The Parker Quartet is offering some deeply-felt homage: a CD made in Monte Carlo, where the Spring Festival of the Arts has created its own recording label with beautiful packaging, colorful liner notes and great sound. This one is a jewel – a celebration of the essence of Beethoven, heard through the experimental pieces that continue to bring the composer’s extreme and haunting perspectives directly into our lives.

Boston is proud to be the home base of the Parker Quartet. They were founded here in 2002 and they’ve gone on to win the Concert Artists Guild Competition, the Cleveland Quartet Award, and a GRAMMY in 2011 for their recording of Ligeti String Quartets. Now they’re in residence at Harvard University and the University of South Carolina School of Music.

If you’ve resolved to give Beethoven a little more room in your life, this is a tremendous place to start. The string quartets are like maps of your innermost world – the emptiness, the fullness, the thrill of growth, the sadness of decay. Somehow it’s all there.

For writer Emmanuel Hondré, the opening of the 10th Quartet (track 1) is “poetic chaos.” He’s right – listen to the sudden sound shifts that the Parkers get, like flashes of strange, emotional energy. Did Beethoven’s daily thoughts feature these unsettling detours? Without flinching, these players can move from an episode of icy wandering, to the sudden solace of a tender tune. Their care with vibrato (vibrating the strings as the human voice vibrates when singing) makes Beethoven’s tendency to disintegrate all the more poignant, testing the strength of the very silence on which he’s written his music. Their care with sonic balance takes your ear on just the right path. Listen to the opening of the slow movement (track 2) and the gorgeously tragic way that the first violin stays prominent, without stepping on the beauty of the other voices.

The recording also features the quartet in B-flat, Op.18 No. 6. When you’re hanging on to Beethoven through this adventure, as he swings and slides between emotional states, you realize you’re witnessing glimpses of the later composer emerging – Beethoven the radical.

Watch the Parkers play this quartet here:

Just as astonishing is the performance of Beethoven’s second “Razumovsky” Quartet, commissioned by the Russian ambassador to Vienna. Even if all you do in this Beethoven year is sink into this quartet’s starry hymn of a second movement, you will have done something huge.

Learn more about the Parker Quartet here.

And listen all week to hear it, on 99.5 WCRB!

For more information, to sample tracks, and to purchase this recording, visit Amazon Music.

Cathy Fuller is a Host and Producer for CRB.