Whose recording of the Beethoven Quartets is 'best'?

January 8, 2012 at 08:54 PM · I'm looking for recordings of the complete Beethoven Quartets to give a friend. Recently I've listened to the Alban Berg Quartet's version. Overall, they seem rough, over-emphasizing many of the gestures so that there's an underlying disquiet and few nuances.

Which quartet has done, in your opinion, the best job recording all (or at least most) of the quartets? Why?

I have some time on this, so recommendations--with reasons!--are very welcome.


Replies (36)

January 8, 2012 at 09:15 PM · Hi Marjory,

I haven't listened to all of them, but the Cleveland Quartet (with Bill Preucil, v1 and Paul Katz, clo) is one of my favorites. They do an exceptional job with opus 18. Very clean, very transparent playing. It's been awhile since I've listened to them, but at least for op 18 they are my favorite.


January 8, 2012 at 09:53 PM · Cleveland with Preucil is excellent, Griller Quartet, on Dutton, is magical.

January 8, 2012 at 10:19 PM ·

January 8, 2012 at 10:23 PM · Guarneri Quartet if I were to pick only one. Other great ones I've got and like very much include Quartetto Italiano, Alban Berg String Quartet, Emmerson String Quartet. You may want to check the Arkivmusic.com to read up on their reviews.

January 9, 2012 at 02:06 AM · Hi Marjory, for elegance and subtlety I like the Takács.

January 9, 2012 at 02:26 AM · Thanks for the reminder about the Takacs. I feel like there are better groups out there right now, but during their peak, there may have been no one better.

January 9, 2012 at 02:47 AM · My vote is for Cleveland with Mr. Preucil.

January 9, 2012 at 03:09 AM · Hi Terry, their Bartok is unsurpassed! I heard them play the complete cycle back in 04 in Ann Arbor.

January 9, 2012 at 05:48 AM · I heard them live last winter doing Bartok 3 and Schubert G Major. If they're past their peak now, they must have been quite remarkable then.

January 9, 2012 at 12:41 PM · Yes, I agree that the present Takacs quartet live is certainly good.

But I've recently heard a bunch of young quartets live that I think are fabulous: the Jasper, Ebene, Pacifica quartets.

Perhaps the best I've heard live recently is the not quite so youthful Brentano. A wealthy benefactor told them to buy the best instruments they could find. This worked out to be a strad, another strad, an amati, and a guadagnini. Four perfectly matching instruments with some stunningly amazing players. The first violinist and the cellist have some quirky mannerisms but you can't argue with the sound.

January 9, 2012 at 02:21 PM · Guarneri is my favorite Beethoven SQ cycle.

January 9, 2012 at 02:49 PM · I would go with the original Budapest if you can still get their recordings. If not, the Amadeus or the Shanghai.

January 9, 2012 at 03:00 PM · Nobody mentioned the Quartetto Italiano? The Alban Berg is darn good too.


January 9, 2012 at 04:17 PM · I'd put in a vote for the Vegh quartet's recording. Absolutely stunning playing.

January 9, 2012 at 04:58 PM · I've always liked the recordings I have of the Fitzwilliam Quartet.

Not too many people will have heard of the "Quatuor Français", but I met the first violinist Daniel Rémy about five years ago when he was well into his retirement but still playing. There's a recording from 1981 of Beethoven's Op.59/2 (when he was in his heyday). I enjoy this recording very much. (scroll to bottom of the linked page to listen to it)

January 9, 2012 at 07:00 PM · As is typical with these posts for the "best" recording of something, we have at least one vote for practically every recording of significance. Maybe a better way to phrase this question is whether someone has heard a recording that s/he would not recommend.

January 9, 2012 at 08:53 PM · Hi,

There are so many fine recordings already listed, but I would add to that list the Alban Berg Quartet's cycle as well as the newest cycle done by the Tokyo String Quartet in the last couple of years on Harmonia Mundi.


January 9, 2012 at 11:30 PM · Greetings,

I second the Guarner and add tyhe Budapest. I have heard the Ber Quartet many times live as well as on disk and have to confess that in spite of their totla perfection and brilliance I find them er, just a litlte dull.



January 10, 2012 at 05:17 AM · I third Guarneri.

I'd also put in a vote for the great playing of the now-defunct Orford Quartet.

January 10, 2012 at 03:20 PM · So many outstanding recordings of these quartets..same as the symphonies or violin concerto, and it is almost impossible to recommend "the best", let's review the historical recordings.

The first complete recording was by the Lener quartet, and if you like the hungarian school, go for them, the hungarian quartet or the Vegh (first versio, mono).

The Busch quartet made superb recordings, but not the complete quartets (the 4 last or Razumowsky n°3 are a must.) Same with the Calvet quartet, especially op 131 and 132, and then the Pascal quartet (soon to be reissued by Doremi), balance, elegance and superb recording, the french school at its best.

Then the Budapest quartet, more russian than hungarian, with at least three complete cycles (one live, 2 studio). I like their first, mono recording (check the united archives reissue, very affordable).

The Vlach quartet also recorded the complete cycle in the 50ies, beautiful playing, superb ensemble playing and strong individualities.

Finally, the Fines Arts quartet (the original setting) made a milestone recording in the 60ies..some of their live performances are available in a music and arts box

January 10, 2012 at 04:05 PM · The Yale Quartet issued an amazing Beethoven cycle which I believe is available online at the Naxos Library.

January 11, 2012 at 07:11 AM · Daniel Orenstein wrote:- "So many outstanding recordings of these quartets".

I go with him;- for the Budapest, go for that early set. By 1960 they became troubled by health-related intonation problems and shaky ensemble. I found their "Grosse Fuge" of that era particularly disturbing.

The Busches were a benchmark of their era and always worth a listen. And what I've heard of the Grillers always amazed me, though I never heard their Beethoven. Indeed, their legendary reputation made life difficult for the Amadeus, who virtually took over their slot in the UK after the Grillers emigrated - subsequent stylistic "chalk and cheese" comparisons tended to be unfairly weighted against the Amadeus, but the Grillers were a hard act to follow.

Critics over here in the UK have continued to praise the Amadeus for Opus. 18 and the Lindsays for the late quartets. They were very enthusiastic about the Quartetto Italiano whose recordings display a matchless integrity, but I bought just one of their cycle and found their sound seemd rather fresh and gritty compared with most others, which I attributed to their playing on quite new instruments.

There's a mono set by the Hungarians that I value for the sheer quality of the first-violin playing of Zoltan Szekely. The Talich also have a fine leader.

The Petersen quartet embarked on some Beethoven recordings. Opus 130 was well received., and I like it. Did they continue ? Time for me to re-explore this subject- I've been wasting time on composition recently ! Thanks to the original poster. But the fact remains:- there's no all-time best, IMHO.

January 11, 2012 at 07:21 AM · ah. The lindsays.

I grw up with them. It wa smore like supporting a brilliant but erratic soccer team. On form they produced (,ostly because of Peter Cropper soe of the greatest quartet I have ever heard (I heard them doing the Beethoven cycle many times) Other times they were so wild and off the planet it was a nightmare.

Great shame they aren`t better known all over the world. Such passionate musicianship was extraordinary.

I also have fond memories of Peter Cropper throwing my shoulder rest into the audience at a master class when i wa strying to play Scherzo Tarantelle. Mmmmmm



January 11, 2012 at 02:14 PM · I've a stack of the Lindsays' Haydn CDs. Great stuff. I don't know their Beethoven, but I can always add another to the Towering Wish List...

January 11, 2012 at 03:59 PM · Thanks to this thread I listened to the Lindsays in Opus 130. Very good; the Cavatina especially well done. I compared that movement with the Amadeus, Petersen and Hungarian. So often performances of this problematic movement fail to manage a real Adagio and leave me feeling Beethoven should have composed an extra bar into the recap. The Lindsays prove the composer was right all along ! If this performance isn't great, I don't know what is !!

January 14, 2012 at 08:46 AM · Speaking of the Busch quartet, you can hear their perf.of Beethoven 1st quartet at 6pm (NY time), this monday on accent4.com, special program devoted to the greatest performers of the 20th century (followed by the 9th symphony under Furtwängler, philharmonia orchestra). Right after that, Milstein plays Paganini, Prokofiev and Vivaldi.

And Tuesday at 4 pm, Michael Rabin's legendary recording of Wieniawsky 1st concerto

September 11, 2013 at 08:03 AM · I'm just randomly bringing this old thread up late at night because I cannot stop listening to Quartetto Italiano's Beethoven Op. 18, and I feel that this is a virtually unbeatable recording of this particular work. Whatever they had going for them, this brought out their very best, and I can't stop being in complete love with them while I listen to this recording. Thank you, Quartetto Italiano. And thanks, Beethoven!

September 11, 2013 at 11:23 AM · Hungarian Quartet.

Showing my age again!

September 11, 2013 at 01:15 PM · Talich quartet.

September 12, 2013 at 12:16 AM · another vote for Hungarian quartet-- I think every bit as good as either the first (78s) or second (monaural LP) release of the Budapest cycle. Also worth a listen, the Lowenguth Quartet.

September 12, 2013 at 07:37 AM · I very much like Guarneri Quartet!

September 12, 2013 at 08:44 AM · You posted the Cavatina, which clearly, the Guarneri currently owns. I'm referring to opus 18, and yes, the Hungarian takes a well-rounded approach, and their style is quite elegant, but upon further listening, I am only more convinced that I am correct. Everyone else is wrong.

September 12, 2013 at 09:13 AM · Hungarian is quite nice, though. :) They keep cheating their phrases, though. Why the rush?

September 15, 2013 at 05:53 PM · When I first heard the Guarneri in the 60s,I was astounded that I could hear 4 distinct voices all the time with transparent voice-leading. I wished they had been playing the dictation examples when I studied solfege and ear-training. I heard every note clearly; it reminded me of G Gould's Bach. While I have been very moved by other quartets, notably Budapest, Griller, original Cleveland, Hungarian, Amadeus and Italiano, Guarneri has a special place in my heart.

September 16, 2013 at 02:39 AM · Me too

September 17, 2013 at 06:38 PM · I'm listening to the Italian Quartet--thank you Dmitri and Emily for that recommendation.

In general, I'm preferring the older quartets' recordings, but I don't know whether it's entirely due to their interpretation, or to the 'smoother' style of recording. I just don't enjoy the tonsil-close recording style that seems in vogue these days. The balance, elegance, and restraint of the older groups meets my understanding of Beethoven (at least at the moment).

Thanks for resurrecting my thread!

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