Great String quartets

April 3, 2007 at 04:36 AM · Your favorite string quartet?

Alive, dead or retired....


Replies (76)

April 3, 2007 at 04:59 AM · A few of my favorites:

Mendelssohn op 44 no 2

Beethoven Razumovsky 3

Beethoven op 132

Haydn op 76 no 2


Glass no. 3

Janacek no. 1

April 3, 2007 at 07:00 AM · A student of mine gave me a CD set of the Guarneri Quartet in the late Mozart quartets.

Great stuff!

April 3, 2007 at 08:44 AM · Joplin-Entertainer performed by Duet Artmix

April 3, 2007 at 09:02 AM · The Mischa Elman Quartet

April 3, 2007 at 12:15 PM · Borodin (the musicians, though the two works are wonderful, too)

April 3, 2007 at 02:53 PM · The group or the music?

April 3, 2007 at 02:57 PM · Paul ask for groups. Mines are:

First Borodin






First Melos

First Tokyo



Old Budapest (before 1950)



Old Pro-Arte

Wienn Konzerthauss

April 3, 2007 at 06:28 PM · I would add to your list of earlier groups:

Busch SQ

Fine Arts SQ

Vegh SQ

Griller SQ

Weller SQ

Love Quartetto Italiano, too, and Takacs, and Cleveland, and Miro, and the usual favorites.

April 3, 2007 at 04:06 PM · In no particular order:



La Salle





April 3, 2007 at 04:37 PM · what about the Capet or the Vermeer?

Anybody's heard them?

Also, why are those your favorite?

Gennady, your insight would be welcome.

April 3, 2007 at 05:10 PM · Paul - Do you mind adding quartet pieces to the discussion as well? I would love to learn quartet literature better.


April 3, 2007 at 06:05 PM · oops. misunderstood question.

anyone mention Emerson? is that too obvious?

also, Takacs, American, Shanghai, Tokyo (w. Peter Oundjian), and Belcea quartets

April 3, 2007 at 06:37 PM · So many and such individual sounds...

Where to begin? I didn't get the Juilliards for ages, but one day I had an epiphany with either op.59#2 or op.131 - it bowled me over. The Emersons - such technique, clarity. ABQ - Schubert. The warmth of Cleveland...

Some lesser-known but goodies: the Concord quartet, particularly for Black Angels; Cherubini - brilliant phrasing (Schumann incl. piano quintet). And the quartet that taught me to love quartet playing - the Lafayettes in Victoria, who are celebrating 20 years together this season.

As for favorite repertoire - Beethoven op. 135 (if I had to pick one), Mozart D minor, Ravel, Brahms (all three - but A minor edges the others out today), Bartok 3 - the list goes on and on...

April 3, 2007 at 07:14 PM · there are a lot of young quartets now too. pacifica and jerusalem, to name two fresh and talented ensembles. each has an amazing list of really nice recordings already...

April 3, 2007 at 06:55 PM · It depends on the rep, but my all-time favorites are: Borodin, Budapest, Emerson, Guarneri, and Takacs. Also Kronos and Arditti for contemporary music. And I've heard wonderful live performances by the St Lawrence, Endellion, Shanghai, and Brentano quartets. Have people mentioned Orion and Hagen?

Ihnsouk, my recommendations for a beginning quartet listener are:

Mozart: 6 quartets dedicated to Haydn

Beethoven: all of them really, but start with the middle quartets

Schubert "Death and the Maiden"

Dvorak "American"



Bartok #4

Shostakovich #8

That's pretty much a "greatest hits" list. My favorite Shosty is actually #13, and my favorite Schubert is D887, despite its length. All the Bartoks are really great. The Brahms quartets are very thickly written, but they're fantastic music if you hear a good performance. If you have a few minutes to spare the Webern quartet works are really amazing, as are Kurtag's. George Crumb's "Black Angels" is a great piece.

If you're a Bach fan the Emerson recording of "The Art of Fugue" is very fine.

And for many people, the greatest works of them all are the late quartets of Beethoven. But if I get started writing about them, I won't stop, so I'll leave it at that. :)

April 3, 2007 at 09:04 PM · Have to go with the Borodin and Alban Berg SQs.

April 3, 2007 at 09:16 PM · Takacs SQ easily.

April 3, 2007 at 09:54 PM · TAKÁCS!!!!!!!!

April 3, 2007 at 09:55 PM · And yet more:

Contemporary - the Artaria SQ (disclaimer - I study with their 2nd violinist), always exciting and well-prepared performances, adventuresome repertoire, and they run a competition for high school string quartets (final this year is 4/27).

From the Decades Past - Kroll Quartet (William Kroll was the first violinist), heard many wonderful performances from the original Fine Arts Quartet. Probably few have heard (or heard of) the Brazilian Quartet, but I heard a lovely concert from them once.

April 4, 2007 at 12:06 AM · I adore the guarneri quartet, particularly for their old recording of Beethoven op 132 (and the rest of the late sqts.) The profound emotions conveyed in the third movement are overwhelming.

April 4, 2007 at 12:46 AM · Peter - Thank you for the wonderful list. I went out and got the art of fugue and ordered a few others. Looking forward to listening to Bach before going to bed. Thank you.


April 4, 2007 at 01:34 AM · My favorites are the Takacs String Quartet and the Tokyo String Quartet.

April 4, 2007 at 03:06 AM · st lawrence- any haydn they play live is just mind boggling.

April 4, 2007 at 03:23 AM · So many great groups...I'd have to go with Borodin and Takacs for now.

As for pieces, Prokofieff #2 is so good...nobody's mentioned that yet. What about Shostakovich 3? There's too much great stuff. We're so lucky we don't have to play brass quintets.

Also...has anyone heard the Raphael ensemble? They're not a string quartet...a sextet, but I have a recording of their Souvenir de Florence and it is by far my favorite.

April 4, 2007 at 03:30 AM · Among the great younger quartets:

Miro SQ

Cypress SQ

April 4, 2007 at 06:05 AM · It's hard to say since I've only heard a few great quartets live, but I have heard many recordings from just about all of them. The best performance I've ever heard, live or recorded, was a live performance by the Brentano SQ. Their performance of Beethoven's op. 132 was truly sublime, and I hope that some day I will hear a performance that makes me feel that strongly again.

Maybe we should differentiate between best live performance and favorite recording, as it is hard to beat a great live performance with a recorded one.

April 4, 2007 at 08:14 AM · Sharon -

Good point about the St. Lawrence! They take so many risks - it's fantastic. Have you heard them with Scott yet?

April 5, 2007 at 01:58 PM · My favorites are:





I used to attend the concerts by the Julliard Quartet at the Coolidge Auditorium, Library of Congress. That was when Robert Mann was first violinist and Earl Carlyss was second violinist. They were absolutely wonderful!!

April 5, 2007 at 06:56 PM · Hi,

Too many great groups to mention them all. I guess I like different quartets for different repertoire but to single out anyone makes me feel that I would neglect many others.

I get to hear the Tokyo Quartet as they come to Ottawa next week. Should be great. I have to say that their recent release of the Beethoven op. 59 is just spectacular. They are in the process of doing the op. 18, I think, and I am looking forward to that very much as well.


April 5, 2007 at 04:31 PM · Chris,

I have to second your opinion about Tokyo's recording of the "Razumovsky" quartets. It is spectacular! Those are some of my very favorite quartets!

April 5, 2007 at 05:14 PM · There was a set of recordings of the Beethoven Quartets I heard years and years ago by (if I remember correctly) a French string quartet that was outstanding. Their way of playing was just different from everyone else, and especially in a movement like the slow movement of #9, it was just simply haunting. However, for the life of me, I can't remember the name of the group, and none of the ones mentioned so far look familiar. If anyone can respond to this, I'd love to hear about it. I think I'd recognize the name if I saw it. Sorry for presenting such an ambiguous puzzle.


April 5, 2007 at 07:08 PM · Takacs, but this could be due to the fact that I have a lot of their recordings. Have seen too few live SQ performances to base it on that, sadly, b/c live music really tells you about the group's interpretation and skill, doesn't it?

Love the Guarneris for the same reason - Arnold Steinhardt's book Indivisible By Four gave me an intimate glimpse of their years together, as did the film documentary of them (name eludes me - High Fidelity, maybe?). Wonderful view behind the scene of a string quartet - just loved it and consequently I will always have a fondness for the Guarneri SQ. Anyone have any comments about how they're sounding with the new cellist?

April 5, 2007 at 08:20 PM · Sandy,

was it the LaSalle? I think they recorded on DG.

April 6, 2007 at 06:21 AM · The LaSalle Quartet was excellent, but were not French. They were based at the University of Cincinnati's College Conservatory of Music. However, I think the first violinist (Walter Levin) was living in France in retirement 10-20 years ago, but one retired violinist does not a French quartet make.

April 6, 2007 at 12:16 PM · LaSalle? And not French? OK, but I'm still not sure. Thanks anyway.


April 6, 2007 at 02:24 PM · Ligeti is an all time favorite for me!!

and the artemis quartet plays it beautifully i think

April 6, 2007 at 02:39 PM · For anyone interested in the Second Viennese School, (besides me), I recommend the La Salle SQ set "Neue Wiener Schule" out on Deutche Grammophon. I studied chamber music with both Henry Meyer (RIP) and Peter Kamnitzer, and they were both fabulous teachers. I still harbor great fondness for Mr. Meyer, who passed this year at Christmas time.

April 6, 2007 at 04:35 PM · Sandy...Ysaye quartet?

April 6, 2007 at 05:42 PM · I don't think it's the Ysaye. The LaSalle sounds closest. At any rate, all of the players in this group had a way of playing that the sound was "solid" from the beginning of the note to the end of the note. The bow changes and accents were crisp and articulate, and with a gritty kind of sound that is hard to describe. And they did not always use vibrato. As I mentioned, that beautiful slow movement of Opus 59 #3 (with the constant pizz droning of the cello) was positively haunting.


April 6, 2007 at 08:17 PM · Sevgul,

Yeah, I have that same recording of Ligeti quartets, great stuff. :)

April 6, 2007 at 08:30 PM · Sander, how long ago was it? Could it be one of the pre-war ensembles (Calvet?) or rather in the 50ies and 60ies (Parrenin, Pascal?)

April 6, 2007 at 08:41 PM · The Pascal SQ?. I've LVB last five by them. It's from the end of the 50s.I think. Very fine versions. And a great Chausson concerto by them with Menuhin and Kentner.

April 6, 2007 at 09:47 PM · The Hollywood (crazy good), Vermeer (Ashkenasi is their incredible first violinist)and Smetena, (whom I never metena)(although my grandfather went on a stroll with the Kroll; he played banjo...who played fiddle?). I'm terribly sorry to confess this on, but I really like the Busch Quartet (Adolph, not George).

April 6, 2007 at 10:58 PM · Curtis String Quartet. Sadly, none of their Westminster recordings from the 50's have never made it to CD. They are absolute gems, specially the Brahms 2nd, the Schumann 3rd and 2 Mendelssohn quartets, op. 12 and op. 44/1.

I have to say that in the fall of '86 I heard the Guarneri live for the first time. It was a concert in Penn's Landing in Philadelphia. They played 2 Beethoven quartets, op. 59 #1 and op. 127. It is easily the best concert I have ever attended.

April 7, 2007 at 01:12 AM · "Penn's Landing in Philadelphia"

Was it outdoors?


April 7, 2007 at 04:24 AM · Hi Ihnsouk,

No, it was indoors. There is a fairly large auditorium there.



April 7, 2007 at 12:19 PM · Such great quartets mentioned. Yes, the Pascal sounds familiar; I'll bet that's it. Anyone know if their Beethoven's are out on CD?

Check this out - a listing of who is (or was) in almost every string quartet in history:

April 7, 2007 at 01:06 PM · I'm glad someone mentioned the Curtis Quartet. Mr. Brodsky had a special sound and the group was amazing. Mr. Cole was one of the great cellists of that time too. Their Dvorak American and Debussy Quartets are models style and ensemble.

Joey - Have you heard these recordings? I'm sure you have. Great stuff.

I wish someone would release their stuff...

April 7, 2007 at 01:29 PM · Hi, Kevin,

I think I have all of their Westminster recordings. I bought the records and had a friend transfer them to CD. Somewhere I also have a cassette of a recording they did for Columbia in the 30's of the Smetana Quartet.

Here's what I have:

1) Brahms, Quartets 2 and 3

2) Schumann, Quartets 1 and 3

3) Mendelssohn, Quartets op. 12 and 44

4) Franck, Piano Quintet (with Vladimir Sokoloff)

5) Dohnanyi, String Quartet in Db, Piano Quintet in Eb(also with Dr. Sokoloff)

6) Ravel, Debussy Quartets

7) Dvorak "American", Smetana "From My Life"

Landy Cole was a fantastic cellist. He sounded great even in his 70's when I knew him.


April 7, 2007 at 01:47 PM · Has everybody heard the Takacs' new Schubert recording by now? *Swoon*!!

What do you guys think of the old Talich quartet? The only other Czech quartet I know is the Smetana.

April 7, 2007 at 06:21 PM · Unfortunately, Sander, no CD edition of the Pascal quartet...they did the whole Beethoven and most of the Mozart...

April 7, 2007 at 07:47 PM · Maura, Czech out the Vlach!

Just got their 1959 recording of the Debussy and Ravel quartets (golly...what an unusual pairing...); their sound is VOLUPTUOUS; you can almost taste it's richness...absolutely gorgeous and never heard anything like it.

(A totally different approach than the Guarneri to these pieces and the only recording other than theirs I adore.)

I never Smet-ena ther quartet with their sound and want to Tal-ich to the world.

April 7, 2007 at 07:47 PM · Ooh, yes, forgot the Vlach. I have their Janacek #1, and it's awesome. Perhaps not the cleanest rendition around, but they get to the heart and essence of the music like no one else. (More food for thought on nationality in music...I swear I'm going to blog about that someday...)

April 9, 2007 at 07:33 PM · Maura, i'd love to see your blog on that issue.

April 9, 2007 at 08:16 PM · Daniel, thanks for the info. Their Beethoven (yes, it was the Pascal Quartet, now that I recognize the name) Quartet cycle was an incredible recording. No quartet ever sounded like them. Let's just hope someone decides to publish it on CDs.


April 12, 2007 at 11:26 AM · Hi,

I saw the Tokyo Quartet last night in Ottawa, and I had to write to say that is was FANTASTIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


April 12, 2007 at 12:30 PM · Glad you enjoyed it. What did they play?

I was listening to Brahms Quartet played by Tokyo String Quartet recently. To me their playing of A minor sounded nice. I can't quite tell what it is, but when I switched to listening to the same pieces played by Alan Berg SQ, I find myself enjoying more.


April 14, 2007 at 10:52 PM · Hi,

They played the Haydn Op. 76 #2, the second Schumann Quartet and the Beethoven Op. 59 #3. It was terrific. Just a great moment in music making. At this point, the quartet sounds terrific with their current formation. It's still sounding in my mind and its been days!


April 15, 2007 at 08:35 AM · I had the opportunity to work with the Tokyo Quartet in a masterclass in 2000 or 2001, when Kopelman was still playing and Clive Greensmith was brand new. Last year, they gave a masterclass in Hamburg in their new formation. What was most interesting for me was to see how the group dynamic had changed and developed: when I played for them, the inner voices did the large majority of teaching and explaining (I should mention that all four members teach together in a masterclass: they all come up on stage and stand behind their respective chairs), with Clive adding a few things here and there about the bass. Kopel was very laconic - he said something about my right arm, which made all the difference in the world, but he wasn't so involved in making the quartet work.

Jump to 2006 - there, I was surprised to see that Clive Greensmith and Martin Beaver were very active in the teaching. In fact, I think they'd really fallen into their leading roles, while the inner voices were more supportive. Interesting to see how they interacted, and I wonder if this reflects their rehearsal style at all. All in all, quite a fascinating approach to masterclasses, and something that seems to happen quite rarely.

April 16, 2007 at 06:52 AM · yes, megan, i've heard the st lawrence with scott a couple of times now, and they're fantastic! i especially love watching the coordination of geoff and scott's feet.

April 16, 2007 at 09:22 PM · Now that I can imagine!

May 7, 2009 at 01:46 AM ·

I'm glad to see the Pascal Quartet finally made it into the Web. When I first got a computer a few years ago, there was nothing. In fact, I joined especially to post my rave about this marvellous ensemble.

The downside of having been immersed in the Pascal's Beethoven back in the late fifties-early sixties, was that everyone else sounded pedestrian by comparison. Bought the records, went to concerts- no one measured up. After a while I stopped bothering.

For one thing, no first violin had anywhere near the artistry of Jaques Dumont. One of the great violinists of the century, I would maintain, the other great French Jaques. But I was a big fan of Maurice Crut, the second violin, as well. My mentor of those days, and fellow sting quartet player, had turned me on to the Pascal in the first plade, and we were regular Dumont/Crut impersonators as we switched first and second. Simply couldn't hear it any other way.

Similarly for the wonderful Pascal, notably in those Beethoven quartets.


They also recorded the Mozart Quintets with Walter Gerhart. Now, others would match them in the Mozarts, but for anyone who might be able to, do yourself a favour:  Check out the slow movement of the C Major--a kind of operatic love duet between first violin and viola. I'll warrant you seldom heard such eloquent playing.


May 7, 2009 at 03:01 PM ·

Agree. I've the last LvB SQ and the quintets. A really warm and intelligent performance.

May 8, 2009 at 10:12 PM ·

And there was an ensamble that never made recordings, but I gess it should be interesting, and was the string quartet of London's Beethoven Society: Joachim and Ernst violins, Wieniawsky on viola and Piatti at the cello.

May 8, 2009 at 10:26 PM ·

Lindsayan Quartet!  My former teacher's group!

May 8, 2009 at 10:29 PM ·


where doe sthat name come from?  Surprised they didn`t get confuse dwith te Lindsay quartet which coud provide some of the wildest musical rides in history.



May 8, 2009 at 10:38 PM ·

Javier is from Bolivia Stephen.  I think...... I recall.......... that the name may be indigenous to Bolivia?  But I cannot say.

May 8, 2009 at 10:56 PM ·

The Miami, Takacs, and Tokyo String Quartets are my favorite. As for repertoire, Ravel and all of the Brahms quartets.

May 9, 2009 at 12:54 AM ·

I have recordings of the Klingler Quartet (which included players from Joachim's Quartet) and the Flonzaley Quartet. These were very fine Quartets. These along with the Capet Quartet can really spoil your hearing for modern quartets. 

May 9, 2009 at 01:47 AM ·

The Lindsays

May 9, 2009 at 11:51 AM ·

Some other rare old ensambles that made recordings are the Bohemian SQ (with Josef Suk Sr.), the Kreisler, the Amar-Hindemith, the Schneiderhann and the Primrose  (this one all stars: Oskar Shumsky, Josef Gingold, Primrose and Harvey Shapiro!).

May 12, 2009 at 10:49 PM ·

A friend of mine used to be in the Lindsayen Quartet. They were sponsored by someone with the last name of Lindsay. But since the Lindsay was already a quartet, they used the name Lindsayen.

No offense to my friend, but I think I liked the LIndsay better than the LIndsayen.

May 12, 2009 at 11:13 PM ·


interesting. I thought the name might have been a problem...

As for the Lindsay`s,  at their worst they could produce some of the most excruciating sound ever heard on the planet. At their best they could go places noone has ever been.  Fortunatley they erre dtowards the latter.   Never a dull moment.



May 13, 2009 at 12:15 AM ·

 I am most certainly biased because I was mentored by William Preucil and Peter Salaff, but...

the Cleveland Quartet will always hold a special place in my heart. They have a transparency of sound and unity of purpose that is quite amazing. I asked my teacher what they spent the most time doing in rehearsals. The first thing he said was taking coffee breaks. The second was practicing slowly together.

May 13, 2009 at 01:37 AM ·

I adored the Guarneri Quartet when they were still up. Today, I like the Hagen Quartet, closely followed by Alban Berg and Borodin. :)

May 13, 2009 at 03:15 AM ·

The guarneri quartet still sounds great. I heard them play ravel , kodaly, and the  "rider" all with extraordinary musicianship and their distinctive silky sound. i have never heard a more exciting and dynamic Haydn, and the colors in the third movement of the Ravel quartet were to die for.

I don't John Dalley has gotten his due in the shadow of Steinhardt. One would be hard pressed to find a more rock-solid 2nd violinist.

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