Beethoven Complete String Quartets - Quartetto Italiano
APE | Genre: Classical | 1967 - 1969
APE | Genre: Classical | 1967 - 1969
Such complete works as this - spanning the composer's lifetime - make for an excellent study in the composer's musical evolution. Although termed "early" works, Beethoven's first Op. 18 Quartets were composed when he was around thirty, having dozens of brilliant compositions behind him. These first quartets show both the 'restrained' classical forms and mannerisms of Haydn but with notable evolutions like the introduction of deeply emotional and tragic writing (the slow movement of the No. 1). The "middle period" quartets (op. 59, 74) shows Beethoven at his most "Heroic" style composing broad, sweeping, and increasing complex part writing - so much that the fickle Viennese audiences used to Haydn's and Mozart's classical style were not quite sure what to think of them. Even more abstract to audiences (outside Beethoven's quartet friends) were the late works (Op. 130-135) which progress to totally new ideas, sounds and organization. These included unusual, frequent and unexpected shifts in dynamics, tempo and key modulations. But most historic was an intangible emotive quality Beethoven introduced to music which might be termed "spirituality." What is most amazing is that these musical revolutions all were developed when in Bethoven's final years lived in a state of sadness, illness, deafness and isolation. Yet, having a lifetime of notes and music in his head, his composing skills were not limited at all by this deafness but perhaps even more focused. With their highly evolutionary form and spiritual nature, the late quartets are in a category of their own and have provoked many an analysis as to their meaning and connection to Beethoven's final years.
The Quartetto Italiano show why they were a legendary quartet in the 60's and 70's with a remarkable performance of great depth here. Complementing them is a vibrant Philips recording in spite of its 60's heritage. The sound is very good but just a little shy of depth and richness as compared to the modern DDD recordings like the new Takacs recordings (but absolutely nothing to deter purchase). One listen will reveal why it is a Gramophone "Top 100 Recording of all time." Given all the superb recordings since, this speaks highly of this set. Their playing is masterful, dramatic and probing - all while maintaining their characteristic smooth and emotive style that has endeared them for generations. Other notable quartets for these works include the Takacs, Emerson, Busch, Vegh, Talich, Alban Berg and Lindsay Quartets. All the above are rated 3/3 stars by Penguin Guide, so competion is fierce and it really comes down to what stylistic nuances most appeal to you. Other reviews below give some insights into the comparitive performance as each brings something different and insightful to the music (my first choices would be the Takacs). So, get the one that most catches your interest and imagination. But, as far as value and quality of performance, this neatly-packaged Philips complete set of 10 CD's here may be hard to beat. 4.5 stars.
Side note: Before Beethoven tackled the quartet genre, he wrote some pretty superb music for STRING TRIO which are lesser-known pieces brimming with freshness, imagination and delightful harmonies in the more "classical tradition." The Leopold Trio or Grumiaux Trio are excellent choices for these. These five works for string trio are a neglected part of Beethoven's music that is most rewarding and provide a context for the later, monumental string quartets. - Gramophone "Top 100 Recording"
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