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on 19 January 2000
These works were ground-breaking in their time, and this recording is a landmark production, making the quartets available at an extremely reasonable price. I was not altogether unreservedly happy with the performance - the Medici's string tone, while pleasant, is unconventional, and I feel that it does not quite suit these pieces. The late quartets, with their unrelenting vivacity and brilliance of invention, are superbly brought off, but in the earlier works, which are less consistent in quality, one gets the impression that the players were not quite as enthusiastic as they might have been. The recording, as we have come to expect from Nimbus, is excellent; very good, clear sound quality and a pervasive sense of space and presence combine to bring the performances to life throughout. These CDs are worthwhile recordings by any standard - but at this price, the set is practically irresistible.
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on 10 January 2000
For many years now I have wanted to own the complete set of Beethoven string quartets. Partly because of the purity that the musical form brings, and also the mystique of being some of the composers last works. I had always preferred the idea of a complete set rather than to risk potential duplication when buying separately. Then there is the matter of cost - seven or eight CD's can equate to £70 or £80 - a considerable outlay for something of an unknown quantity. So it has been a long time dilemma, pay a fortune for what might be a patchy or poor performance, or buy separately and end up with a patchy or poor collection.
On the face of it this boxed set is almost too good to be true, and the answer to my dilemma. At little over £20 for eight CD's and over nine hours music, it contains all the quartets and the Grosse Fugue plus the String Quintet Opus 29. There is a reasonably sized booklet of programme notes (often very brief with budget CD's) written by Geraint Lewis. And to top it all the performance is by a well-known string quartet. The Medici formed in 1971, is widely regarded as one of Britain's leading ensembles. The recording is fully digital with a reference to being Stereo Ambisonic UHJ encoded, which is a surround sound format used to give that concert hall 'space' feel. Whether Hi-Fi's with surround sound capabilities can take advantage of this I don't know. There is definitely an ambience to the recording, which might not be to some peoples taste. One person's ambience is another persons echo. The sound the quality of the recording is clear, although I did detect some underlying background noise noticeable at the start of tracks, but it wasn't intrusive.
As to the performance I enjoyed it greatly. The body of work is large enough to take many listenings to fully appreciate. In this body of work you have music from the whole of Beethoven's musical development. The early quartets are played in a lyrically classical style, with a more powerful performance for the later ones. It's a tremendous experience working through the whole collection as Beethoven's music develops. Ideally it is a journey that must start at the beginning of the collection and be listened all the way to the end. This is made possible because of the Quartet's well-rounded performance, which draws the listener in, never dragging, then moving on to the next piece.
Nimbus Records quote from Gramophone Magazine for the collection states:
"... all the beauties of tone and phrasing of their reading are under-pinned by a fine gravity of utterance and a firm continuity of line."
Start saving your pennies for that perfect performance, but buy this one straight away, it will not disappoint. It is certainly the best value collection of Beethoven quartets; it may be the best value set of CD's ever.
David Thompson
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 10 February 2008
I have loved this eight disc set ever since I bought it shortly after its release in 1994 and have never found any reason to replace it with a more expensive version by a more "glamorous" quartet. Thse are deeply felt yet unfussy performances, beautifully in tune, technically impeccable and responsive to all the shades of dynamic and tone that this incredible music requires. I particularly love the hushed rapture of the slow movements, such as the famous Cavatina in Op. 130, but the Medici are equally adept in capturing the grim, savage glee of Beethoven's wilder effusions in the "Grosse Fuge". I made a point of comparing their version with the celebrated Takacs Quartet account of the later quartets, and while I admired the Takacs' elegance and subtlety, their interpretation was simply too urbane, too civilised and lacking the attack and energy that the Medici bring to these strange and wonderful works. I have bought this set for friends - easy, even at "full" price - who now share my enthusiasm for these performances and you can now pick them up from Amazon Marketplace at knock-down prices. Don't hesitate; save your money for other, more expensive items on your wish list and make this your set of Beethoven string quartets.
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on 29 July 2015
The Medici String Quartet’s recording of Beethoven’s String Quartets comes in the form of eight CDs in two separate Box sets, each of four CDs. Each separate Box set carries the inscription ‘Complete String Quartets’. This can lead to some confusion. Prospective buyers might wish to check the product description to verify whether the item offered for sale is eight CDs or one of the four CD sets.

In my case I purchased the set of four CDs of the later quartets, Opus 74 to Opus 135 and I am very impressed with the Medici’s performance of them. Although I was already familiar with last five quartets I was less so with the other two. I was particularly struck by the Medici’s interpretation of the Opus 74 ‘Harp’ quartet. I have tended to regard this as a kind of orphan quartet that fits awkwardly with Beethoven’s other quartets. The Medici’s serious minded version showed me more clearly its relation with the later quartets.

The late quartets are very fine. The Medici’s robust, direct approach allows the music to speak directly without needing to make interpretative points for us. I know some reviews of this set have criticised the Medici’s string tone. There may be a point here, but it hasn’t given me a problem. Indeed for me this is of a piece with their whole approach, serious and direct. Smooth toned and comfortable late Beethoven doesn’t seem real Beethoven at all to me. That said, I confess a touch more relaxation in the Cavatina of Op 130 wouldn’t have come amiss. That other heart rending movement, the Adagio of Op 132, is wonderful.
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It is always tempting to try to collect the complete works of a composer, or the complete compositional style of a composer. And it is also tempting when this is offered in one complete package. But sadly sometimes this isn't always a good investment since parts, or all of the recordings can be better than others.
However this release is a very good one. It is an excellent way to get the complete String quartets by Beethoven. The price is of course of appeal for so many collected pieces of work. But also there is the well handled performance from the Medici String Quartet. It is a strong performance with plenty of emotion. They cope well with the complexity of the compositions and the performance is confident and strong.
This is an excellent investment and will give years of listening pleasure.
0Comment10 of 12 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
As another reviewer has said, despite giving them five stars, that the Medici's tone is not great. In fact I think it's dreadful and was surprised to find Nimbus associated with such a harsh and abrasive recording. I can't even agree that they pull off the later quartets any better. The scrapes and squeaks just get in the way all the more as the music becomes more demanding. Once I got my Beethoven: Complete String Quartets by the Quartetto Italiano I gave this box away to someone I knew wouldn't be able to tell the difference.
66 comments12 of 24 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

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