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on 23 January 2014
The legendary 1953 Hungarian Quartet mono cycle for a tenner? Clearly I must be dreaming. This is the next best thing to the Busch Quartet having recorded all 16 quartets (one of the great missed opportunities of EMI) and the last time I saw these performances on Amazon they were priced at a cool £80. Grab it, before someone comes to their senses.
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I tend to favour hearing a bit of grit in my Beethoven quartets which is why I have found myself veering away from more modern, homogenised accounts and tending towards interpretations which eschew surface beauty or smoothness, as my Beethoven is a man of volcanic passions and tempestuous conflicts.

I currently own four complete box sets and as much as I love the Tokyo Quartet, they represent the limit of my tolerance for smooth, homogenised sound; when I am seeking consolation it is to their versions that I turn. Otherwise, I return to my first love, the bargain Medici Quartet set on Nimbus, still available very cheaply and wholly in tune with the gutsier approach I prefer. I am also hugely enamoured of the Smetana Quartet's 60's cycle which has the advantage of being old-style but in stereo.

Finally this legendary Hungarian Quartet series from 1953 has been made available at a knock-down price - at least in the UK, where you may purchase the attractive 7 CD box set for about £10, whereas it is for some reason considerably pricier in the US - and the only caveat is that you must be tolerant of mono sound. Excellent mono sound, it is true but mono nonetheless. I hardly notice when I am being swept along by some of the most energised and propulsive quartet playing you will ever hear. Tempi can be quite extreme but never inartistically so; as the brief but informative note explains, the quartet had ample time over the war while in exile in the Netherlands to study these great works and they play as one.

Regis does not always come up trumps with their remastering or packaging but this set is impeccable: my merest gripe is that the CDs are supplied in self-adhesive envelopes which are awkward to open. And oh yes - there is a misprint in the note: "impetuous" for "impetus"; after that, there's nothing to complain about - this is the ultimate bargain for anyone wishing to acquire one of the classic chamber music recordings. By all accounts this set is more immediate and spontaneous sounding than their re-make in 1966; certainly I am convinced. There is all the rapt intensity you would wish in the slow movements and at times in the prestissimo sections they play as if on fire.

Grab it - now.
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on 9 October 2014
There are excellent reviews for this music-making and they can be trusted. The playing of such quality that any slight concerns about the age of these closely recorded performances are instantly dispelled. This was a remarkable team of musicians at the top of their form. I knew I would be moved by the middle and late quartets - I have the later Hungarian set on vinyl - and I was delighted to feel the same urgent, larger-than-life approach brought to the Op 18 set; these accounts highlight, not a composer making first attempts at writing for this grouping, but one somehow pre-equipped to take the string quartet to a different level of expressive ambition.
If there were more stars, these CDs would deserve them, too.
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on 14 May 2014
A fine set for sure, but amazon has failed to include most of the late quartets in the AutoRip. Quartets 12, 14, 15, 16 and the Grosse Fuge are missing.

Update:

I am given to understand that the problem has now been resolved. In the meantime I managed to download the individual mp3 files which had been left out of the zip. Rating thus upgraded to 5 stars.
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on 7 September 2014
The music is excellent and I was surprised by the quality of the recording as it was made a long time ago.
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on 11 August 2014
Great value if you don't mind mono.
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on 9 November 2014
It is a great shame that this recording sounds like it is recorded in a tin can with a blanket on top - imagine what a decent restoration job would have done for these outstanding performances. Also I think that they are rushing some of the faster movements like there is no tomorrow. For me this music invites to contemplation - even if Mr Beethoven could have his movements of furious activity. Whatever, is a historical document and therefore interesting. I rather prefer the Smetana on Denon or the Tokyo recordings of newer date.
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on 9 October 2014
Among the finest versions I have ever heard, in sound quality which is showing its age but is not a serious distraction. A set to return to regularly.
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