After 45 years of service, performing up to 100 concerts a year and amassing an extensive discography, the senior members of this renowned group have decided to call it a day and retire. While this valedictory release (it was recorded in 2006) seems a predictable choice with two much- loved if well-worn warhorses, it is a warm, hearted farewell that encapsulates all the virtues that have led to the group’s legendary status: unanimity of ensemble and articulation, perfect intonation and a sumptuous tonal blend second to none thanks to their four Stradivarius instruments (“The Paganini Quartet”).
To expect great revelations here would be to miss the point; these performances are wise and profound, finding exactly the right tempo for every movement, rubato applied so naturally as to seem inevitable, the phrasing idiomatic and unexaggerated. They achieve that elusive goal of a great performance – the sense that it couldn’t be played any other way. Listen to the first movement of the Dvorák and marvel at the control of sonority and balance as they relax into the second subject, the tonal change registering as a warm glow of autumnal colour, or to the unforced impetus of the finale as the coda confidently strides toward its conclusion. Demonstration quality SACD sound makes this a library choice for this coupling.