CD review: Elias’s Beethoven vol 3

First published in the Guardian on 1 December, 2016

Beethoven: Quartets, volume 3
Elias Quartet (Wigmore Hall Live)

In 2015 the Elias Quartet (sisters Sara and Marie Bitlloch plus violinist Donald Grant and violist Martin Saving) ended several years of intense Beethoven immersion by recording the complete quartet cycle live at the Wigmore Hall; this third instalment groups Opus 18 no 3, Opus 95 and Opus 130. Qualities that always strike me about the Elias are their diligence and candour, their unguarded, searching commitment, but this performance adds new daring and flair, too. Opus 130’s first movement is spiced with suggestive slides; the second movement skits and scurries; the fourth is playfully elastic. Even the sacred Cavatina is milked for slow melodrama and big swoops, possibly too much in music of such profoundly simple beauty but in general I enjoyed the personality and élan tremendously. Given the technical composure and focus of the playing it’s doubly impressive this is recorded live. Applause is left in, and it surprised me on every listen.