Review By Perry Tannenbaum,American Record Guide,November 2009
Take your pick among Beethoven’s three piano quartets and you’ll find that major recordings are fairly rare. Collections of all three are rarer still…Listening to this new Naxos set, played with winsome new zeal by the New Zealand [Piano] Quartet, I felt this latest exhumation to be entirely justified and enjoyable. Even Piano quartet 3, which was the actually written first, has an instant appeal that pianist Richard Mapp calls forth with spontaneity and zest. There is no mistaking the subordinate role of the strings, but here too the backing of the New Zealanders is spirited and joyful. The recording is beautifully balanced down there in wellington town Hall, and violinist Yury Gezentsvey and violist David Maurice harmonize deliciously with
Following the chronology of composition, the New Zealanders place Piano quartet 1 in the middle of their program. I’ve forgiven myself for liking it the best of the bunch. It begins with a lovely Adagio that has grave passages for violin and viola with heavy lyrical cargo that Mapp ardently caresses. Perhaps the lift-off that follows in the Allegro is melodramatic to an adolescent fault. But this is Beethoven, even if we’re hearing it in crude, unrefined form—and it’s irresistible fun, professorial quibbling be damned.
It’s prudent to judge Piano Quartet 2 the best-crafted of the group, for the cohesiveness of piano and strings in the opening Allegro is a sizeable leap beyond the opening of Quartet 3, with textures—and bite—that indicate a keen absorption of Haydn. The Andante has many attractions flowering from its pulsating seriousness and makes judicious use of pizzicato. But the closing rondo, in 3/4 time, is the charmer. The smiles on the faces of the New Zealanders are almost audible.
They have caught Beethoven in a lighter, more relaxed mood than usual. Thanks to this ensemble’s auspicious debut, so have we.