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12 thoughts on “Beethoven: String Quartets, Comparison Summary”

  1. Dear Rolf,

    As always, a very thorough and balanced set of appraisals. 3 comments:

    1. I bought the Endellion Quartet set very cheaply about a year ago, seduced by the ‘extras’ and the new edition. In light of your disappointment, I think I need to go back and have a careful re-listen.

    2. Seeing your very positive comments about the Quatuor Mosaïques in Op.18, did you catch a BBC recording of them performing Op59, No.1 & Op131 from a while back? A kind soul uploaded these onto YouTube- links:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vy8GzHgtXe4
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hii2szPQ4Q

    3. I was lucky enough to hear the Kuijken Quartet perform Op59, No.2 about 8 years ago. As I recall, Sigiswald played 2nd violin and his daughter 1st violin. In between the quartet and Schubert’s Rosamunde Quartet, she accompanied a singer in some Schubert lieder. What a talented family!

    Best,
    Louis

    Reply
    • rolfkyburz – near Zurich, Switzerland – Classical music & concerts: blogging & reviews — Edu: science / chemistry — Past: software support, programming — Hobbies: photography, garden, nature

      Dear Louis,
      thanks again for your comment(s) — and sorry for the delayed answer (“concert duty” … 🙂 ).
      It’s excellent to have those links to the two Mosaïques performances — I have put those into my “To listen” and “Favorites” lists and will certainly take the time to hear them at full length! It struck me how soft they play the beginning of op.59/1 — very interesting! Too bad the sound quality is limited, and that there is no real video. I wonder whether they still have plans to record all of Beethoven’s quartets?
      As for the Endellion recordings: that recording (set) was recommended to me by several members of a BBCR3 forum — I was skeptical from excerpts, and disappointed after listening to the entire set. Yes, the “extras” are interesting, but whether they justify buying the entire set, I don’t know. If you want my frank opinion: technically, they are a class below most of the other ensembles in my review. After this experience, I’m now even more careful in following recommendations.
      Best regards,
      -Rolf

      Reply
  2. Dear Rolf,

    Your summary table is interesting and is a useful guide. I only wish it included the Végh quartet (1952 and 1972 recordings), and the Lindsays which many think extraordinary but which I have not yet heard. I would also be interested to know what you think of the Alban Berg concert recordings in comparison with the studio one. I was particularly struck by the low scores you give to the Amadeus, the Guarneri and the Italiano (many seem to think very highly of the latter in particular, but I do not share their enthusiasm).

    In any case, it would be great to have an updated version of your table.

    Best regards,
    Paul

    Reply
    • rolfkyburz – near Zurich, Switzerland – Classical music & concerts: blogging & reviews — Edu: science / chemistry — Past: software support, programming — Hobbies: photography, garden, nature

      Dear Paul,

      thanks a lot for your feedback! I wish such comparisons could ever be complete. But trying to achieve that would end up as an eternal task, with the comparison effort ever increasing with each additional recording. In general, I see my comparison as a “defined subset”, which can only possibly be “completed” by consulting comparisons by others. 40 years ago, I found the Amadeus quite good, though they were (on LPs) rapidly surpassed by the first recording by the Melos Quartett Stuttgart (which I do not have on CD). Meanwhile I seem to have gone down the irreversible path to (preferring) historically informed interpretations, and in that light, “vibrato-rich” quartets such as Amadeus, Takács, and many others stand very little chance to achieve top ratings. I have vague memories of hearing the Amadeus quartet in Lucerne around 1972, and at about the same time I also once heard the Végh Quartet with op.59/2 and one of the late quartets. Yes, the latter were excellent — at least back then…
      When I do the comparisons, I know who is playing (I did not try doing blind comparisons), but I try to stay neutral, merely asking myself “What’s my experience?”, “Does it relate to what’s in the score?”, etc. — trying NOT to be influenced by “big names”. And I do listen to the recordings IN FULL, SEVERAL TIMES. I can’t deny that there is a subjective element in here — and there always will be. I mis-trust those fan communities that keep preaching “he’s the best!”…
      I also received other recommendations, more in the HIP camp, such as the Pellegrini and Brentano string quartets — I haven’t even started looking at those (no, didn’t purchase so far).
      Last: it’s not impossible that once in a while I’ll add another recording of individual quartets — but only if I’m convinced that it has a chance of getting a top (4 .. 5) rating. Adding more “boxes” (even “just” with the late quartets) is pretty much out of question (need another life for this!), especially now that concert reviews are eating up much of my precious time … I try to re-gain some focus on CD recordings, though — but also there, there is so much music to be dealt with! On the bright side: I feel that my CD reviews will now be profiting from my experience with concert reviewing. And there are also reviews of string quartet concert performances, e.g., from this spring season in Lugano…

      Best regards,
      -Rolf

      Reply

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    What about the Hungarian Quartet? I bought their performances of the five Late Quartets yonks ago on vinyl, and theirs was the recommended set on BBC Record Review a few years back.

    Reply
    • rolfkyburz – near Zurich, Switzerland – Classical music & concerts: blogging & reviews — Edu: science / chemistry — Past: software support, programming — Hobbies: photography, garden, nature

      Hi Felijs, thanks for your comment! Sadly, there is only so much I can do in such comparisons. I haven’t had a chance to look into performances by the Hungarian Quartet. I listened to short excerpts just now — but would not want to make any comments from this. I’m sure that at their time, they were among the prominent quartet ensembles — but in my choice of historic performances, I had to be selective, and now I don’t see any opportunity to re-iterate my selection. If I’m at all commenting on additional Beethoven quartet performances, this would be either in concerts (obviously not an option here), and/or with ensembles doing historically informed performances (e.g., Chiaroscuro Quartet).

      Reply
  4. Looking forward to read an updated version when you include additional recordings.
    I own
    Jerusalem Quartet – HarmoniaMundi 2015 [24-96]
    Belcea Quartet – Alpha 2016 [24-96]
    Brentano Quartet; Op130,133 – Aeon 2014 [24-96]
    Cuarteto Casals – HarmoniaMundi 2018 [24-96]

    Regards

    Rodrigo

    Reply
    • rolfkyburz – near Zurich, Switzerland – Classical music & concerts: blogging & reviews — Edu: science / chemistry — Past: software support, programming — Hobbies: photography, garden, nature

      Thanks, Rodrigo, for your comment!
      Unfortunately (for me — fortunately for all the music lovers out there!), there are tons of string quartet ensembles, and equally tons of recordings of Beethoven string quartets on the market.
      When I collected the bulk of my recordings, I focused on ensembles that recorded the entire set of 16 quartets, or (in the case of the late series) ideally at least all the late quartets. My blog is a “one man show”, and this series of Beethoven quartet reviews was an immense amount of work. Once completed, I made some scarce additions of individual recordings (Hagen, Chiaroscuro, Mosaïques), but quickly realized that even just adding a single recording to an existing review is consuming more time than I really have at hand: for one, concert reviews have “eaten up” almost all of my time over the recent years (plus, I keep getting requests for [non-Beethoven] CDs to review), and also, I really would rather like to expand the spectrum by comparing recordings of works that I haven’t discussed yet—beethoven and other composers. Overall, the chances for major expansions to the Beethoven string quartet series are rather slim.
      Actually, I already have one set that I have not discussed already: the late quartets with the Quatuor Mosaïques. That brings me to priorities in performance style: I have a strong preference for HIP performances, and hence ensembles such as Chiaroscuro and Mosaïques stand much higher chances of being added (if at all) than “traditional” recordings.
      However, things aren’t quite as bad as it may sound: for one, readers should feel free to add their own views in comments, thereby expanding the scope of a review. And then, you find reviews of concert performances of several (many even?) quartet formations in my blog—namely Jerusalem, Casals, and Belcea. In the case of the Jerusalem and Casals, these concert performances also included Beethoven: Jerusalem: opp.95, 59/1; Casals: opp.18/1, 135; to some degree, these concert reviews can be seen as representative for how I see and rate these ensembles (in Beethoven).
      Plus, there are concert performances of Beethoven quartets with other ensembles. You should be able to find these via the top menu, e.g.: Search for.. A composition -> Beethoven, or you can use the last one of the top menus to find performances (concert & CDs) by a specific ensemble. Sorry, there is only so much I can do!
      Best regards,
      -Rolf

      Reply

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    This is a very detailed and resourceful summary! Thank you!

    Reply

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