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Trio a crazy whirl, the whole form lifted to another stage in its evolution. These players relish every second of extroversion before Beethoven reins in for what he called ‘a sweet song of rest, a song of peace’ – intent made explicit in the evocative marking Lento assai, cantante e tranquillo. Inner privacy returns; the Belcea reach under the wraps, again aware that expressions of solitude have their individual sense of time. And they space out the message, from a theme of simplicity in D flat transformed through hesitations in the C sharp minor second variation to its fragmentation and stilled coda in the tonic. Was the follow-through, a toss-up between ‘Must it be?’ and ‘It must be’, the ‘difficult decision’ in the Grave introduction to the finale, meant to be jocular? Joseph Kerman thought it a poor joke. The Belcea disagree but sense ambivalence, and go against received wisdom by postponing an answer until the coda of the ensuing Allegro when the slyly humorous objective eventually breaks cover. The last laugh?

Possibly; yet within the contradictions of his genius, Beethoven’s most personal fervour may rest in the slow movement of Op 132, conveying a ‘Holy Song of Thanksgiving to the Godhead from a Convalescent, in the Lydian Mode’. The Belcea’s grip on the atmosphere of profound gratitude and joy is absolute, changes of metre and mood laid bare through a numinous aura ineffably mysterious and circumspect. Remarkably, a complete command of gossamer traceries at the softest levels, heard in all performances, is heightened at the end; the final chord fades out in a wispy thread.

This is the Belcea single-mindedly fathoming the emotional recesses of the composer’s psyche, every interpretation steeped in a pregnancy of feeling, a vast recreative experience that harks back to the untrammelled foresight of the Busch Quartet at its best – but reconsidered and revitalised for our time. Yes, it’s that good.

RECORDINGs Of THE YEaR

august Gramophone Choices casella orchestral Works, Vol 3 BBc philharmonic orchestra / gianandrea noseda Chandos ChAn10768 ‘Good news: Vol 3 in Chandos’s Casella series effortlessly maintains the exalted artistic and technical standards of both its predecessors.’

KAthERinE BRYAn flute Works Katherine Bryan fl rsno / Jac van steen Linn CKD420 ‘Exuberance of spirit coupled with the mellowness of her golden timbre lend the first movement a lightness and mellifluous fluency.’

Js Bach Cantatas, Vol 53 soloists; BcJ / masaaki suzuki BiS BiS1991 ‘The flavour of these works is encapsulated in the etched dialogues and textural luminosity of a distilled musical language drifting gently towards a galant sensibility.’

JanáčeK Sinfonietta. the fiddler’s Child. taras Bulba prague radio so / tomáš netopil Supraphon SU4131-2 ‘Supraphon’s engineering team manage vivid reportage of constantly varying textures that frequently defeat even their most accomplished rivals.’

‘liVe From lugano 2012’ martha argerich and Friends EMi 721119-2 ‘This collection treads the fine line between the immediacy and drama of live perfomance and the accuracy needed for the repeat listening of recorded performance with great dexterity.’

macmillan tenebrae Responsories choir of Westminster cathedral / martin Baker with peter stevens org hyperion CDA67970 ‘There are excellent recordings of this sequence, but inevitably the sound of the Westminster choristers adds something unique.’

o t t E R M A n S

: E V Y

p h o t o G r a p h y three members of the Belcea Quartet gramophone.co.uk siBelius Symphonies – nos 1 and 4 minnesota orchestra / osmo Vänskä BiS BiS1996 ‘The passion and sweep of the First is electric, rivalling Berglund’s classic Helsinki version and overhauling those by Järvi and (dare I say it) Sir Colin Davis.’

mompou Piano Works arcadi Volodos pf Sony 88765 43326-2 ‘Volodos’s records and appearances may be few and far between; but whether in his torrential if superfine virtuosity or in a more rarefied poetry, his command is phenomenal.’

Wagner opera Extracts petra lang sop Budapest Festival orchestra / iván Fischer Channel Classics CCSSA32713 ‘Iván Fischer’s work stands as some of the finest new conducting yet put on disc in Wagner’s bicentenary year.’

GRAMOPHONE RECoRDinGS of thE YEAR 2013 25

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