Посв. князю Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz
1. Poco adagio. Allegro
2. Adagio ma non troppo
4. Allegretto con variazioni
Emerson String Quartet
This quartet is contemporary with Beethoven's unsettled Symphony No. 5 and "Les Adieux" Sonata and is less troubled than those works. Even so, it opens with a hesitant Poco adagio introduction that is twice interrupted by jolting chords. The main Allegro material begins with a confident little fanfare followed by a thin yet stimulating theme managed predominantly by the first violin, amid the contrapuntal lines of the other instruments. Pizzicati notes (which give this "Harp" Quartet its nickname) with an agitated accompaniment lead to a short round of rough chords, and then a swirling phrase traded among the instruments that metamorphoses into a violin melody similar to that of the first subject. The thorough development section combines all the effects Beethoven has deployed so far: fretting accompaniment figures supporting the long melodies, then the short phrases, and ultimately the pizzicato material. This section, despite its wayward harmony and sense of urgency, is more stirring than worrisome. The movement closes with an extremely truncated overview of the original themes rather than a full recapitulation.
The Adagio ma non troppo is a typical Beethoven slow movement, paradoxically full of uneasy serenity. Even the many extended hymn-like sections are troubled by the cello's restless, ascending line when the theme is carried by the violins, or by the upper instruments' fidgety figures when the cello takes the melody.
Next comes the Presto movement, an intense scherzo. Its first trio offers no relief, starting as it does with the cello's buzz saw motif, which infects the entire brief section. After a repeat of the A material, a second trio, thematically linked to the first, hints at a fugue. After one more appearance of the A section, the music subsides and, without a break, segues into a demure Allegretto theme. This forms the basis of six variations. Jagged treatments alternate with flowing elaborations, culminating in a swirling little coda that unexpectedly takes its leave with three soft chords.
(All Music Guide)