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.
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 it's a real bargain, too, and I recommend this set very warmly.
Update: June 2011. The recording of the Quartet in E flat major, Op.74 ("The Harp") included in this set has just been selected by Radio 3 CD Review's Building a Libray as the best available. Given the phenomenal standard of the competition, it's a fine endorsement of the quality of this box.
I am so pleased to have been introduced to this set, through other Amazon reviewers among other sources. Pure serene is here in plenty. Also loud and bold, when appropriate. What you don't get is the self-aware virtuoso, individualistic statement that characterises some more recent interpretations. It is also exceptional value, possibly because the presentation is very simple: 7 discs in cardboard sleeves in a box with a booklet. But, hey, you can easily put them in jewel cases from CVB Media. You can even rework them into sets of early, middle etc on iTunes, rather than leave them as the ready-made concert presentation of the collection as it comes. If you like. The main thing is, set aside lots of listening time. No matter how many times you have heard other versions.
I would only hear Beethoven's chamber works on the radio, fleeting moments when I would not concentrate on the music. I guess Beethoven's symphonies have put his chamber music in the shadows. I bought this box set to set aside some time to find out more about this composer's genius. I was not disappointed, these quartets gave me access to the mind of a man with intense emotions and powerful intellect. The symphonies were mere pyrotechnic displays of a showman; but these quartets were something completely different, they were intimate, human and full of loving kindness. Beethoven the humanitarian is clearly at work here and he invites you to occupy this world. The Alban Berg Quartet's is marvellous, I play these again and again. I play them at home and on my MP3 player. What more can I say.
Anyone wanting the greatest available (that Ive heard anyway) of the full beethoven quartets may look no further. the Alban Quartet do have their own style that has to be said, but it is perfectly suited for beethoven. From the violence of the Grosse fugue to the absolutely sublime Adagio from Op132, its all here. I also love the Italiano quartetto's recordings and the borodon's, but have been dissapointed in more recent recordings such as the Takacs's. I have collected all of the recordings on this box-set separately but to get them all in one package at this price is a bargain. If you love Beethoven and chamber music buy it.
The other commentators make the point that this is a superb cycle of the complete string quartets. Both as rewarding performances and rich sound recording this is a magnificent achievement all round. The more I listen; the more I am drawn in by these great works and the beautiful music making superbly captured here.
For many years the celebrated Philips recordings of the Quartetto Italiano have been my personal choice for the late quartets, but these more modern readings are equally distinctive, especially for me in the late quartets. As an integral cycle and, particularly at a good price, this remains in my view an enriching bargain that is simply hard to match.
The interpretation is excellent even compared to that of the Budapest Quartet. I think this is the best ratio quality/prize oportunity you will find for a complete set of the Beethoven string quartets.