In his 16 quartets for two violins, viola, and cello, Beethoven created a Mount Everest for string players and some of the most sublime, unforgettable music ever written. Continuing to astound listeners after 200 years, these glorious quartets give voice to the innermost landscape of the human heart and spirit. They stand, like Michelangelo's statues or the plays of Shakespeare, at the pinnacle of Western art.
The Beethoven quartets have always been at the cote of the Emerson Quartet's repertoire, and over the years it has honed its playing of these works to a fine degree. Here in this new set we encounter exaltation, immaculate playing and ensemble precision of awesome proportions (typically, first and second violinists often swap their roles). The Emerson is perhaps the best rehearsed quartet of our century. The playing is not only flawless technically, but reflects a careful study of the music, both formally and in the players' intense preoccupation with textual matters. The recording of this set is also spectacular.
Following the Artemis Quartet‘s prizewinning Beethoven Quartet cycle on Virgin Classics, the Berlin-based ensemble has recorded Schubert’s last three quartets, works that Artemis cellist Eckart Runge praises for both their “incredible simplicity and purity” and their “almost terrifying modernism”. Awarded both Germany‘s prestigious Klassik ECHO award and France’s Grand Prix de l’Académie Charles Cros in 2011 for their Virgin Classics Beethoven cycle, the members of the Artemis Quartet now release an all-Schubert CD. It presents the composer’s final three string quartets: No 13 in A minor, ‘Rosamunde’ (which draws on his incidental music for Helmina von Chezy’s play Rosamunde); No 14 in D minor, ‘Death and the Maiden’ (with its haunting second movement based on his song Der Tod und das Mädchen), and No 15 in G major.
The first of the Artemis Quartet’s Virgin Classics CDs of Beethoven Quartets was released in Autumn 2005. Now, nearly six years later, the complete Beethoven cycle becomes available in a box of 7 CDs which includes two previously unreleased items: the quartet No 10, op 74, known as the ‘Harp’, and a transcription for string quartet, proudly made by Beethoven himself, of the Piano Sonata No 9, op 14.
The string quartet is the highest achievement of classical music. How to describe what a great string quartet is/does? Four voices that sing, simultaneously dependently and independently. Or, as someone else once said, "a conversation among four very intelligent and witty persons." After almost 200 years, Beethoven's 16 quartets still stand as the acme of the form, notwithstanding brilliant contributions from just about every important composer since. There are many wonderful performances of the Beethoven quartets available on CD, but none are more distinguished than these performances by the Talich Quartet. More than any other ensemble in my experience, the Talich's performances proclaim that intimacy is the true experience of quartet playing (and listening). Every phrase is projected with exquisite attention to the constantly shifting balance of light and shadow that is the hallmark of the greatest quartet playing. Tempos are vigorous without being rushed, rubato is applied in the subtlest way imaginable, and dynamics seem to explore impossible distinctions between pp and ppp. In short, every performance in this set invites you to carefully listen to Beethoven's musical argument as you've never listened before.T. Beers – Amazon