Saturday, 14 May 2016

Beethoven - Complete String Quartets - Alban Berg Quartet

Rating: 5/5

Wonderful music, beautifully performed

Beethoven's string quartets contain some of his finest music, in my view. The early Opus 18 quartets retain elements of the classicism of Haydn and Mozart while moving the form into new territory, the wonderful Rasoumovsky Quartets in his middle period have some sublime slow movements and show the real development in Beethoven's music, and the amazing late quartets contain a mixture of the strange, the inspiring and the beautiful as Beethoven's genius reached its final flowering. To have all this in one box is truly wonderful.

The performances by the Alban Berg Quartet are excellent. They date from the early 1980s, were very highly regarded at the time and have aged very well, I think. They are technically excellent, their intonation is flawless and show great insight in interpretation. Very fine cycles have been recorded since by other quartets, but I still listen to these discs with great pleasure and for a great complete cycle at budget price I'd say you couldn't do better than this. The slow movement of the A minor quartet Op.132 is one of music's true miracles, and the Alban Bergs' playing of it is still my favourite of any quartet - indeed, it's possibly my favourite 15 minutes of music anywhere. The recording of the Quartet in E flat major, Op.74 ("The Harp") included in this set was selected by Radio 3 CD Review's Building a Library in 2011 as the best available. Given the phenomenal standard of the competition, it's a fine endorsement of the quality of this box.

If you're looking for a recording of the Beethoven Quartets to get to know, this is ideal, and if you're already familiar with them there is plenty to enjoy in these interpretations. At this price for seven CDs of superlative music it's an exceptional bargain, too, and I recommend this set very warmly indeed.

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