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L. Van Beethoven: The Complete String Quartets Box set

5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Audio CD (22 Sept. 2009)
  • Number of Discs: 9
  • Format: Box set
  • Label: Foghorn Classics
  • ASIN: B002XDE9GI
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 433,978 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. String Quartet in F Major, Op. 18, No. 1
  2. String Quartet in G Major, Op. 18, No. 2
  3. String Quartet in D Major, Op. 18, No. 3
  4. String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 18, No. 4
  5. String Quartet in a Major, Op. 18, No. 5
  6. String Quartet in B Flat Major, Op. 18, No. 6
  7. Quartet in F Major, Op. 59, 'Razumovsky No. 1'
  8. Quartet in E Minor, Op. 59, 'Razumovsky No. 2'
  9. Quartet in C Major, Op. 59, 'Razumovsky No. 3'
  10. Quartet in E Flat Major, Op. 74, 'The Harp'
  11. Quartet in F Minor, Op. 95, 'Serioso'
  12. Quartet in E Flat Major, Op. 127
  13. Quartet in C Sharp Minor, Op. 131
  14. Quartet in B Flat Major, Op. 130
  15. Grosse Fuge in B Flat Major, Op. 133
  16. Quartet in a Minor, Op. 132
  17. Quartet in F Major, Op. 135

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Format: Audio CD
I've listened to and loved these quartets for over 40 years and have most of the recordings ever made of them. I'm particularly obsessed by the late quartets and despite loving several other recordings believe this version by the Alexander Quartet to be one of the finest. No other set has given me as much overall pleasure. I suspect that is in part due the excellent sound of the recording which has presence, body, amazing clarity and perfect balance. I had not previously heard of the Alexander Quartet so these are a wonderful discovery and an overwhelming experience to listen to.
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One approaches a new recording of familiar repertory perhaps with a little trepidation: after all, there are plenty of other recordings of this music including several distinguished ones at lower price so how will a new one stand up? Well, there's always room for a new one if it's as good as this. The Alexander Quartet's Beethoven cycle has been beautifully recorded, every nuance caught. This set is among the best I've heard and I get a lot of pleasure listening to it. The players understand the character of the music so well, from the "con brio" aspect of the earlier quartets through to the exploration in the late ones. There are lots of lovely touches - tone never forced; quieter passages crystal clear; and they minimise vibrato on plucked notes which as a result sound as clean as a bell (in some other performances, the pizzicato is too twangy for my taste). A further bonus is that the Alexander members play here on a set of modern instruments made specifically to be used as a quartet. What a wonderful gesture, supporting a modern craftsman.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars 15 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly outstanding traversal of the cycle; great playing and sound; gripping interpretations 27 Dec. 2014
By Tsar_Nicholas - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I started this year with the goal of narrowing down the massive selection of available Beethoven quartet sets to two or three that I deeply connected with and thought were really top drawer. I spent a hell of a lot of time listening to the most highly-regarded groups in detail, and this set was one of those I ended up picking. It was no easy choice!

I'll start by copping to the fact that I am especially a fan of the late quartets and Op 130 (avec fugue) in particular, and my preference is for what I consider to be a balanced reading of the work that doesn't try too hard to separate the "free" from the "studied" aspects of the Big Fugue -- therefore, a huge part of my decision hinged on whether a quartet did op 130/133 in a way that 'felt right' to me. My overall orientation as a listener is as someone who is coming from a modern / contemporary music background in general, so caveat lector.

So, I had decided that one of the sets I purchased needed to be in what seems in my view to be the modern American style as epitomized by the Emersons : topnotch ensemble playing, high energy, tremendous technical assurance, quite precise intonation , great sound quality, and a musical approach that betrays an obvious familiarity with and perhaps affinity for 20th-century art music / jazz.

In this category, I narrowed it down to the Emersons themselves, and the Takacs -- though I also liked the Orion who are a little spikier and the Cleveland who hew a little more closely to the QI style, in my opinion -- and this set, the Alexanders. I picked the Alexanders over the Emersons (who were half the price) and the Takacs for the following reasons :

1) The biggest reason that I picked the Alexander over the Takacs, who are just as excellent in every regard and who share many aspects (indeed, I would be surprised if the Alexanders had not intentionally modeled certain aspects of their interpretations after the Takacs), is that the Alexander play LvB with a heightened sense of *drama* and *duende* without ever succumbing to the vaudevillian or the cartoonish. Again to use Op 130 as an example -- whereas the Takacs play this with a palpable sense of jubilation and swing in the faster sections, the Alexanders play with an unmistakable sense of apprehension and questioning, right up to the redemptive transformation of the ending (where the opening theme morphs from minor to major and lilts to the finish). The Alexander also impart a distinctively more evolving, narrative feeling to their performances of many of the more complex pieces (130, 131, 132, all three 59s, in particular). Equally good and valid interpretations, I just personally prefer the darker, more searching and maybe anomic vibe of the ASQ.
Special addendum to the above : I have not heard any group do a more profound and moving version of Op 130/133 [that suits my tastes]. The way the ASQ 'enunciates' the urgency of the presto where most groups slur, the way their cavatina seems riven with both regret and hope, and the way they present the "big picture" and complicated emotions of the fugue in a non-fractured fashion -- simply wonderful.

2) Of all the American groups that I auditioned, the Alexander String Quartet puts the most work, I believe, into tempo selection and control, and rhythmic concerns in general. So many of the groups I listened to play this repertoire at amphetamine pace and, to paraphrase the sage Chuck Berry, risk obscuring the richness of what's going on in the music. The Emersons themselves do this big-time -- sometimes, I feel like they are playing fast for the sheer fun of it like thrash metal stars. But the Alexanders consistently pick tempi that suit the music and stick to it, rarely dragging / rushing and practically never playing with what I would call excessive rubato. One can really hear what is going on in these pieces, and the emotional information of the rhythm is strongly communicated. * This depth of consideration for the music (and, dare I say the listener!) really amplifies my enjoyment of this set.

3) The combination of tremendous sound quality (as has been noted by other reviewers), nickel-plugging intonation, and especially *outstanding* use and control of dynamics by the players make the listening experience of this set extraordinarily pleasurable. The sound, though a touch more reverberant than I personally prefer, is otherwise beyond outstanding, it is tip-top. Really great clarity and wonderful representation of the cello and viola; the timbre of these instruments is 'toothy' and exciting to hear (compare to the very different, but equally wonderful, timbres on the Vegh or Prazak sets). As regards intonation -- I am by no means a stickler for intonation; I love the stereo Vegh set whose first violin is absolutely as eccentric in microtonality as is commonly commented, and I fully enjoy the fire and passion of the Lindsay set which likewise displays significantly unorthodox pitch sensibility, but there is certainly something nice about listening to a quartet where everybody is more or less in frequency agreement (a feat whose difficulty I surely appreciate!). There are really only a couple of significant 'clams' on this whole set. [The Emerson, Takacs, particularly QI, TQ, Alban Berg, and a few other groups that I auditioned are in this same category.] And the Alexanders' dynamics -- well, just let me say, they are remarkable. The emotional weight that they impart via this means to material like Op 132 (or 131 for that matter) is devastating, but what really "gets" me is how they use this ability to bring forth additional vitality in the more upbeat works like Op 59 #1 (e.g., second movement freeze-frame / strobe effects like few have achieved) and Op 74 (e.g., glittering arpeggios; constant surprise in the presto).

Other random notes : the cello player is excellent, he plays with sensitivity and power, and really is simpatico with the other players. First violin guy is molto bene and does not screech or overdominate, no surprise there -- my understanding is that Z. Grafilo is well-known in the Bay Area as a top cat. Viola guy -- well, let me just say I'm glad he is mixed forward; wonderful playing and timbre. Second violin is likewise very good, hell, the whole band is obviously great or else the quartet wouldn't be great.
I can't emphasize enough how good the ensemble playing is on this set. These guys have clearly practiced the living daylights out of this material and devoted a lot of thought and discussion to the artistic choices involved in how to play each piece. And yet, each performance crackles with bright-eyed enthusiasm and freshness -- there is not a stale cut among these nine discs -- they present this as a living music.
In short, though I ended up with a bunch of LvB quartets on CD in the end, and each group in this class [I mean, we're discussing groups at the very top level of musicianship here] has its own merits and interpretations worth hearing and having -- if I *absolutely had* to choose just one set to keep, it would probably be this one, for all the reasons stated above : I love the interpretations; the tempi, rhythm, and general musicianship are outstanding; and the sound quality is wonderful.

*[note : the only quartet that I think is really rushed on this set is Op 59 #1, which is nearly always played too fast for me to really grab the full bloom of the melody -- only the stereo Vegh set really nails my preference. Obviously, I'm in the minority -- even my other Euro favorite, the Prazak, plays it a little faster. The Vegh, humorously enough, sound like they hate Op 130 and can't wait to be done with it -- S. Vegh rushes the tempo increasingly throughout the piece]

*subnote #2 : you may notice I don't talk about Op 18 much -- well, I just don't prefer to listen to those quartets often, really, in comparison to the others, though I like to have them available. While I find them perfectly enjoyable, they sound very similar to the better works of Haydn, Mozart -- and I prefer LvB in his later musical maturity. The Alexander play Op 18 comparably well to the Emersons, though if I actually want to listen to Op 18, I will actually spin up the QI version first, or the Vegh -- these groups seem to take a bit more glee in playing those works]
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a stellar Beethoven quartet cycle *addendum 2015* 18 Nov. 2012
By jsa - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
After having owned the Alban Berg Quartet Beethoven cycle for a long time (Beethoven: The Complete String Quartets), I decided to look at alternatives. After considerable research, I decided on the Alexander Quartet's set, even though I was unfamiliar with this ensemble and the Foghorn label under which they record. I was most influenced by a long, well thought out review by Michael Cookson on the musicweb site, from which the following quote is derived:

"To summarise: the ASQ provide a most natural feel to their interpretations. I admired their splendidly matched phrasing together with an intuitive grasp of structure. The dynamics are rarely overstated and their choice of tempi feels just right. The exceptionally clear and dry sound is closely caught. I loved the quite exceptional essays from musicologist Eric Bromberger. These add appeal to the overall presentation. The ASQ can take considerable credit from these superb interpretations. Their dedication and insight has paid off as this set is one of the very finest available. The Takács on Decca are now no longer clear first choice in the catalogue. This Foghorn set is unquestionably one of my 'Records of the Year' for 2009."

While there are already plenty of reviews here on amazon, one more endorsement is in order. Most significantly, since purchasing the Alexander Quartet cycle 18 months ago I find myself rarely listening to the Alban Berg Quartet's recordings. The logic and beauty of the Alexander's conceptions are completely convincing, and the sonics are spectacular.

Five stars.

2015 ADDENDUM:

I acquired the Quartetto Italiano's legendary Beethoven cycle some time after having written this review, and found myself drifting away from the Alexander Quartet's recordings, just as I had drifted away from the Alban Berg Quartet's cycle after listening to the Alexander's. This is not just enthusiasm over something new or different. As much as I found to admire in the ASQ's recordings at the time, they've been firmly replaced by the QI's for a number of reasons. Mostly, the QI found just the right place between classicism and modernism - a 1960's outlook that has endured the test of time - whereas the ASQ exhibit a little too much preoccupation with technical perfection, a trait they share with nearly all modern ensembles. The Quartetto Italiano's readings are, simply put, warmer, and more humane. In the end I would rather have more of the music and this is what you get with the QI.

In view of this, I've changed my rating to four stars.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Music Does Not Get Much Better 19 Jan. 2015
By cw - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I have never studied music, other than in elementary grades. Thus, I am not an expert. Further, I never even thought about string quartets. But I have been hearing a few on Sirius XM and thought I would buy a couple. I read the reviews of performers and kept learning about the Alexander String Quartet. So, I bought this set of Beethoven's complete string quartets. I fell in love. I have been listening to these three volumes day and night for several weeks. I listen on-line, from the CDs, from my iPad....well, everywhere and always. And the notes in the set are wonderful. They are written by Eric Bromberger. I have read them several times. Based on these notes I have now purchased the Alexander String Quartet's "Homage: Mozart". BTW, Bromberger writes the notes for "Homage". I have never heard such spendid music from string musical instruments as I am hearing from the Alexander guys. Now I want to see what string quartets they have performed by Haydn.
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Savettage 12 Dec. 2010
By MinnesotaMind - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
These versions of the quartets are absolute gems. I own both the Takacs and the Quartetto Italiano; while I love both of those sets for different reasons (Takacs muscular play, QI's pure beauty of sound and tone), these renditions by the Alexander String Quartet are my new favorite. First of all, I agree with the previous reviewer who said that these CDs might be the best sounding music he owns. I literally can't wait to pop the CDs into my stereo or listen on my iPod with my new Sennheiser headphones. The sound of the quartets is crystal clear, layered, and smooth. While the Takacs sound, though digital, can sometimes sound harsh or sort of "crackly," the Alexander's digital sound is simply gorgeous. The playing here is flawless and the interpretations, pretty straight. In terms of pace, they're faster than the very sumptuously slow QI, and either the same, or a little slower than the Takacs, I haven't checked running times. You can't go wrong here. Thanks to the previous reviewers for drawing my attention to this amazing set.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thank you reviewers 12 Jan. 2014
By L. Polgar - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Always enjoyed the Guarneri Quartet ( hard to find and out of print perhaps) and considered the Emerson version...but this is so fresh and alive. Great musicianship , instrumentation, recording and sound. It's a Wow!
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