Beethoven String Quartets

March 26, 2006 at 06:36 AM · I'm curious which recording(s) of the Beethoven String Quartet cycle you prefer.

ARe there any relatively unknown gems that you know of?

Replies (25)

March 26, 2006 at 01:24 PM · Hi,

There are a lot of great recordings by most of the famous quartets (Alban Berg, Guarneri, etc., etc.). One of the more difficult to find and most certainly worth it are those by the Vermeer quartet, especially of the late Beethoven quartets. The intonation is so perfect that in some of slower movements, like opus 132, you can hear a the overtones, literally - like a different world of sound. A must hear in my opinion.

Don't miss out on the new recording of the Opus 59 by the Tokyo String Quartet - gorgeous playing. Came out not too long ago.


March 26, 2006 at 02:25 PM · I'm a big fan of the Borodin Quartet's recording of op. 59.

March 26, 2006 at 04:59 PM · cleveland quartet with william preucil.

March 27, 2006 at 12:34 AM · I love the Hollywood String Quartet's recordings of the late quartets. It's a pity they did not record the entire cycle.

March 27, 2006 at 05:41 AM · In addition to the usual favorites, I really like the old Fine Arts Quartet recordings of the complete cycle (--which we have on original vinyl & have digitalized).

March 27, 2006 at 02:20 AM · I enthusiastically agree with Marty's recommendation of Cleveland Quartet with Mr. Preucil. He and the rest of the quartet do a spectacular job at everything I've ever heard recorded by them. (my special favorite recording by them is their Dvorak American...those Preucil slides are gorgeous!)

March 27, 2006 at 03:00 AM · In the old days Budapest Qt. was the standard.

March 27, 2006 at 02:49 AM · The Busch Quartet.

Their recordings from the 30's & 40's are one of the few ways we can connect with the German romantic tradition of the 19th Century.

Their recordings of Beethoven, Brahms & Schubert are breathtaking--and very different from how people play today.

March 27, 2006 at 03:28 AM · I'm gonna jump on the Cleveland boat here. By far the greatest cycle. The Takacs quartet's cycle is excellent too, I love their lighter approach in various sections.

March 27, 2006 at 06:20 AM · I must admit I am a bit of a Beethoven quartet nut... I can never have enough recordings of these pieces.

I don't listen to the early quartets so often, but I have recently been enjoying the recent recording by the Miro Quartet. The Cleveland (Preucil) op.18s are also excellent.

As for the middle quartets, I think the new Takacs recording really stands above the others out there. These are desert-island level recordings for me.

The late quartets have so many extraordinary interpreters, it is impossible for me to choose a favorite. As a group, though, the early Guarneri recording is timeless. Equally impressive in completely different ways are the Takacs. The Emerson, Tokyo, and Vermeer are, to my ear, musically related, and all are excellent in their way. I have heard truly stunning recordings of individual late quartets from the Hagen, the Budapest, and the (Weilerstein) Cleveland quartet.

With a gun to my head, though... for the complete cycle I'd have to go with Takacs.

March 27, 2006 at 06:40 PM · I'm going to have to say Takacs. I absolutely love the Takacs Quartet, they have such energy and passion in everything they play! They bring just the right qualities to Beethoven in my opinion!

March 27, 2006 at 10:10 PM · I am with Bruce on the old Budapest.

March 28, 2006 at 01:19 AM · has anybody heard the amadeus recordings? There is something irresistible about their sound to me.

March 28, 2006 at 02:36 AM · Willie M - you must clean your ears. Norbert Brainin of the Amadeus Qt has the most wiry sound and awful vibrato I have ever heard. Sorry!

Other members - any comments about the Quartetto Italiano, Vegh & Talich Qt performances please?

March 28, 2006 at 03:06 AM · I agree, not a big fan of Amadeus' rec. I also like Berg's recordings, but I find them to be a bit on the conservative side (compared to other recordings).

March 28, 2006 at 03:55 AM · Has anybody heard the Rose (Arnold Rose)Quartet's recordings? Very ancient, but very special.

March 28, 2006 at 07:14 PM · A long, LONG time ago, I heard a recorded set of the Quartets played by (I think) a French quartet. For the life of me, I cannot remember the name, and I have check list upon list, and still can't find it. They all played with the same style - very solid beautiful but earthy, meaty sound, and the attack of the notes was on the string and very incisive and powerful. In that haunting slow movement of the Opus 59, #3, they all play with minimal vibrato and the effect was positively riviting. It's killing me that I can't remember the name. If anyone has a line on any group of that era (maybe 40's or 50's or even 30's?) that hasn't been mentioned yet, by all means -- throw some names at me. I think I'd recognize it if I saw it.

Cordially to all. Sandy

March 28, 2006 at 08:03 PM · I love the old Busch Quartet recordings (complete quartets) on Pearl label, I think...

March 28, 2006 at 08:20 PM · Sander, I know exactly the quartet recording you are referring to. I think it's one of these groups:

Academica. Adieux. Aeolian. Alberni. Alcan. Allegri. Amadeus. Amar-Hindemith. Amati. American. Amphion. Arditti. Ariel. Arpeggione. Artemis. Arriaga. Artis. Athenaeum-Enescu. Auer. Aurora. Auryn. Austrian. Balanescu. Bamberg. Bartholdy. Bartók. Beethoven. Berg. Berkshire. Berlin. Berlin Philharmonia. Berwald. Bingham. Boccherini. Bochmann. Bohemian. Borodin. Brandis. Brazilia. Brindisi. Britten. Brodsky. Buchberger. Budapest. New Budapest. Busch. Busoni. Capet. Carmina. Carmirelli. Cherubini. Chester. Chilingirian. Claremont. Clavier. Cleveland. Collegium Aureum. Composers. Concord. Copenhagen. Coull. Daniel. Danish. Danubius. Dartington. Debussy. Delmé. Divertimenti. Dolezal. Drolc. Duke. Dvorák. Éder. Emerson. Emperor. Endellion. English. Essex. Esterházy. Fairfield. Feist. Festetics. Fine Arts. Fitzner. Fitzwilliam. Flonzaley. Fresk. Fryden. Gabrieli. Garaguly. Geneva. Glazunov. Glinka. Gotland. Gouvy. Griller. Group for Contemporary Music. Guarneri. Hagen. Hanson. Havemann. Hawthorne. New Haydn. Helsinki. Heutling. Hindar. Hollywood. Hungarian. Italiano. Janácek. Joachim. Juilliard. Keller. Kneisel. Kocian. Kodály. Koeckert. Kohon. Kolisch. Kontra. Krettly. Kreuzberger. Kronos. Kuijken. Kyncl. Kyndel. Lafayette. Lajtha. Lansdowne. Lark. LaSalle. Latin-American. La Roche. New Leipzig. Léner. Lindsay. Loewenguth. London. Los Angeles. Lydian. Lyric. Lysell. Maggini. Mandelring. Manfred. Manhattan. McCapra. Medea. Medici. Melbourne. Meliora. Melos. Mendelssohn. Fanny Mendelssohn. Mirring. Mistry. Mondriaan. Mosaïques. Moyzes. Mozart. Mozarteum. Muir. Musical Arts. New Music. Norwegian. Novák. Nuovo. Orford. Orlando. Orpheus. Oslo. Panocha. Parisii. Parrenin. Pascal. Pellegrini. Petersen. Portland. Prague. Prazak. Pro Arte. Prokofiev. Ramor. Raphael. Rasumovsky. Reger. Revolutionary Drawing Room. Ringelberg. Rosalyra. Rosamunde. Rosé. Roth. Salomon. Samuel. Saulesco. Schneiderhan. Schönberg. Schubert. Schuppanzigh. Sequoia. Shanghai. Sharon. Shostakovich. Sibelius Academy. Sibelius. Silesian. Sine Nomine. Skampa. Smetana. Smith. Smithson. Sofia. Sonare. Sophisticated Ladies. Sorrel. Stamic. Stuyvesant. St Petersburg. Suk. Takács. Talan. Tale. Talich. Tallinn. Taneyev. Tátrai. Tokyo. Travnicek. Vanbrugh. Varsovia. Végh. Vellinger. Venezia. Verlaine. Vermeer. Vertavo. Via Nova. Vienna Konzerthaus. Vienna Musikverein. Vienna Philharmonia. Vienna Philharmonic. Vienna. Vlach. New Vlach. Voces. Voces Intimae. Vogler. Weller. Westphal. Wilanow. New World. Yale. Yggdrasil. Ysaÿe. Zetterqvist.

Always pleased to be of service...

March 28, 2006 at 10:14 PM · The two most famous french quartets between the two wars were the quatuors Capet and Calvet. The Calvet recorded a few Beethoven quartets for telefunken.

March 29, 2006 at 01:42 PM · Hi,

Actually, the Flonzaley quartet was also well known in France between the two World Wars. Their style is quite similar to the Capet quartet, as is their sound (at least in the recordings I heard).


March 29, 2006 at 09:15 PM · Really? I didn't know that the Flonzaley were active in France or even in Europe, they are always pictured as the american quartet 'par excellence'.Did they record in Europe?

March 29, 2006 at 10:24 PM · "Adolfo Betti, violinist and leader of the Flonzaley String Quartet, was born in Bagni di Lucca, Italy, on March 21, 1875. He soon displayed a gift for music, making his debut as a violinist at the age of seven. Many eminent musicians, including Puccini, were guests at his father's home and encouraged the boy to study music. In 1892 he entered the Liège Conservatory where he studied violin with César Thomson. Upon his graduation in 1896, Betti embarked on a successful recital tour through Austria, Germany, Italy, and England, and in 1900 he became Thomson's assistant at the Brussels Conservatory. In 1903 he was chosen by the Swiss violinist Alfred Pochon to become first violinist of the newly organized Flonzaley Quartet. He held this position until the quartet disbanded in 1929. From then until his death he divided his time between his home in New York and his villa in Bagni di Lucca, writing, editing early music, teaching, and occasionally appearing as a soloist. In 1933 Betti was awarded the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation medal for his valuable services to chamber music. In 1936 he married the French cellist Madeleine Monnier. He died at his villa on December 2, 1950.

The Flonzaley Quartet was the creation of Edward J. de Coppet (1855-1916), a wealthy New York banker of Swiss descent. The American composer Daniel Gregory Mason, in his Music In My Time (Macmillan, 1938), called the quartet "de Coppet's own supreme work of art," and described him as the ideal patron of the arts. De Coppet had a home in New York and a summer estate, Le Flonzaley, near Lake Geneva. A dedicated amateur musician, in 1886 he formed a semi-professional chamber group with his wife and some friends which for years gave regular performances in his New York apartment.

In Switzerland in 1902 de Coppet met Alfred Pochon, who taught with Betti at the Brussels Conservatory, and invited him to come to New York to join his quartet. Pochon went to New York and took up the new position, but before long he found that the outside demands on the members of the quartet left them insufficient time for rehearsals, so he suggested to de Coppet that if he could find four men willing to devote their time exclusively to quartet playing, a unique ensemble could be created. This idea appealed to de Coppet (the moreso as he was beginning to lose his hearing), and he allowed Pochon to assemble the musicians of his choice: Adolfo Betti, first violin, Ugo Ara, viola, and Iwan d'Archambeau, cello.

The first rehearsals took place at Le Flonzaley in the summer of 1903, and the following year the quartet began touring Europe and America. It immediately became one of the two most important American quartets of the first quarter of the century (the other being the Kneisel Quartet); it was also one of the first to make recordings.

De Coppet stipulated that the four musicians could take on no other work outside of practicing, rehearsing and performing together. As a result, they achieved a legendary perfection of ensemble. In addition to the standard repertoire, they championed both modern and early music, commissioning new works while also introducing audiences to forgotten pieces by 18th-century composers such as Sammartini, Leclair, and Boyce."

April 2, 2006 at 02:31 PM · I'm quite partial to the Guarneri cycle. I really enjoy David Soyer's playing - there something "gruff" about his playing, just like how he is as a person, that I really enjoy. He is not afraid to really play out whichis something some quartet cellists don't do enough of. The infamous run in the first mvt. of 59, 3 is nailed on the head and the sonority is his sound throughout is very beautiful.

I have always been a huge fan of Arnold Steinhardt. There is a simplicity and suaveness in his playing that really captures the spirit of the quartets. Some other first violinists strive for a more intellectual sound while others are a little more self-indulgent, but Mr. Steinhardt never crosses the line of immaculate taste and is never "dry".

There is nothing like a great second violinist and violist and I believe that these guys are among the best ever. Listen to Michael Tree's solo in the op59 no.3 and hear the virtuosity and verve, very impressive. The same goes for John Dalley, possibly one of greatest 2nd violinists ever. They somehow have a very full, lush sound without ever compromising texture and balance. Listen to the slow movements of 131 and 132 among others, and hear how they keep the harmonies in check...amazing.

The Cleveland cycle with Mr. Preucil is also very good. It is a more "modern" approach - their sound is leaner, but with almost an obsessive underpinning of refinement and suaveness. Some of the moments in the quartets are captured with such beauty and artistry, such as in the fourth movement of 130, in the I think B section where they take just the perfect amount of time...good stuff.

It is quite interesting to trace lineages back. The Budapest Quartet, who were mentors of the Guarneri's made the benchmark recording that withstood time. To hear some of the pioneering chamber musicians is very inspiring. Some may argue that they not as polished as the players today, but in the words of Mischa Elman, "they owe us a debt of gratitude, because without us, they would not be as good as they are now." (not an exact quote)

Emerson's cycle is quite impressive. Even though they are not my favorite quartet, their conviction is still a sight to behold. Their op132 is among my favorites. One can argue that some of their playing is a little "schumltzy", such as in the Cavatina, but it doesn't bother me too much.

There is an interesting version of 131 and 132 by the already mentioned Capet quartet. It is good for us modern players to hear the old tradition, plus it's interesting to hear one of Galamian's old teachers play.

I have not heard the Busch recordings yet, but I hear just great things about them.

April 2, 2006 at 03:55 PM · Jane - thank you.

Daniel - better to ignore my dodgy memory.


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