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Thread: The Brahms and Schumann string quartets, your favorite recordings?

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    Senior Member Itullian's Avatar
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    Question The Brahms and Schumann string quartets, your favorite recordings?

    No one seems to talk much about them.
    I like them very much but don't have many recordings.
    What recordings do you like and/or recommend?
    Last edited by Itullian; Apr-24-2019 at 01:38.
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    Senior Member D Smith's Avatar
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    I love both these sets of quartets. My go to recordings are by Quartetto Italiano who are superb in both. Other great Brahms sets are Emerson and Belcea among many. Schumann I can recommend the Elias Quartet wholeheartedly plus two new recordings by the Engegard and Ying Quartets.

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    All I've heard is the Takacs (in both) and I like it. Their Brahms recording is a little reverb heavy though, which kind of thickens the already thick textures of Brahms' music.

    I didn't know Quartetto Italiano had recorded Brahms. I'm going to look into that as they're probably my favorite quartet.

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    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    For Schumann...... I find these discs hard to beat.

    51YB9RnS7ZL._SY355_.jpg

    51S+vhmsFAL._SY355_.jpg
    Last edited by Merl; Apr-24-2019 at 17:50.

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    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    I've quite a lot of Brahms SQ recordings
    but the Takacs, Italianos and Julliards rarely move from the very top of the pile. The last time I listened it was the Julliards who still had my heart. They really tear into those performances. I like the Emersons a lot, too, and enjoy their playing but find the recordings a little bit dry (if not I'd like these as much as the previous three). Need to relisten to these again, this week. I have 2 sets on the car USB I haven't played for ages but can't remember what they are. I'm sure I've not even heard one of them.
    Last edited by Merl; Apr-24-2019 at 18:13.

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    Senior Member Itullian's Avatar
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    I ordered both the QI & the Takacs.
    I already have the Emersons.
    I agree with Merl, the Emerson is a bit dry, but still excellent.

    Now for the Schumann.
    Last edited by Itullian; Apr-24-2019 at 21:32.
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    I shouldn't be recommending recordings of the Brahms String Quartets, since I prefer his other chamber works--such as the 2 String Quintets, 3 Violin Sonatas, 2 Sextets, Piano Quintet, Clarinet Quintet, 3 Piano Quartets, etc., and even in concert I've found my mind wandering during parts of his SQs...

    So, for Schumann's String Quartets, I'd recommend looking into and sampling from the following recordings, which I've listed in two groupings (or rather three, if you're interested in historical recordings):

    1. Here are the recent recordings--HIP, period, & otherwise--that I've most liked (& *=performances that I thought were extra special):

    --*Quatour Hermes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WiE9...4Zd9_0ErdSyG5: a super fine, young quartet, who are thoroughly attuned to these quartets. It also sounds like they've considered the music from the standpoint of period practice in the 1830s. Strongly recommended.

    --*Quatour Terpsycordes (on period instruments)--I slightly prefer Terpsycordes to the Eroica Quartet, who similarly play on period instruments and offer more romantic performances that are probably easier to 'like' initially than those by Terpsychordes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zy8G...DEWGhJYrXSt3C3. I should mention that this group went back to Schumann's manuscripts of the first two quartets and found that some of the peculiarities in his original notations--which he had conceived pianistically--had been smoothed over by later performers and editors, causing Terpsychordes to question the published scores. (Note that the group had already been playing the 3rd quartet in their repertory for years.) So, these performances are more authentic to 1830s period practice & to Schumann's original thoughts than most, and I'd recommend them. (By the way, Terpsychordes was the first quartet to record Beethoven's magnificent Op. 132 String Quartet on period instruments, and it's a 'must hear' performance, IMO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81d0ACnc8oE.)

    --*Zehetmair Quartet--SQs 1 & 3: This recording impressively won both the 2003 year end Gramophone chamber music award, and the Gramophone 2003 "Recording of the Year". It was also recently recommended by the BBC Radio "Building a Library" segment in January of 2019. I find the performances excellent and challenging at the same time: Gramophone wrote,

    "The Zehetmair Quartet coupling focuses the music's alternating wildness and fragility with altogether unique perception. Theirs is an agitated, combustible and loving view of Schumann..."

    Here's the rest of the article: https://www.gramophone.co.uk/review/...et-nos-1-and-3

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPuM...sAv2Yk1u5SU4OA

    --Eroica Quartet (on period instruments): These period recordings are excellent, too, and could easily be a first recommendation for some listeners: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kza3rh4gXZg

    Here's what critic Edith Eisler had to say about the Eroica Quartet's Schumann:

    "Though the members of the Eroica Quartet, formed in 1993, belong to various period-instrument groups in their native England, they have developed their own brand of performance practice: they play on gut strings, with sparing vibrato, but at normal pitch; the cellist uses an end-pin; the others use chin rests and shoulder pads. Moreover, instead of researching manuscripts and ur-texts, they consult early editions prepared by musicians active during the composers' lifetime, such as Mendelssohn's friend and adviser, the violinist Ferdinand David. Using his bowings and fingerings may give their performances "authenticity," but it is questionable whether the resulting innumerable slides and accents, which we have since learned how to avoid, are not ultimately to the detriment of the music. The Quartet is good; its taking over and interlacing of voices is excellent, its intonation almost perfect. The playing is warmly romantic and both lyrical and dramatic, but the accents are too aggressive, the liberties too planned. The Scherzos are sometimes a bit heavy, perhaps to avoid sounding Mendelssohnian. The popular third quartet is unusually inward at the expense of its rapturous ecstasy. The cellist struggles with his high register, the Finale is rough and quite unrhythmical, the problematic transitions between the sections lack poise and smoothness. The second, least familiar quartet comes off best: it is elegantly phrased and gracious, and the all-pervasive syncopation is handled very well."

    https://www.amazon.com/Schumann-Stri...sr=1-1-catcorr

    2. Among the more traditional SQ ensembles, who tend to be smoother & more lush with added tonal heft compared to what is heard on the period & HIP Schumann performances (with the exception of the Gewandhaus Quartett, who play in a tradition that goes back to Schumann & Mendelssohn's time), I'd recommend the following:

    --*Gewandhaus Quartet: a later incarnation of the group that originally premiered Schumann's Op. 41, No. 3 quartet in 1838--they play with impeccable intonation and blending, & are heard in superb Hybrid SACD sound. Strongly recommended: https://www.amazon.com/Mendelssohn-S...c&sr=1-1-spell

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oC9uDwrYJAQ

    The one negative is that you have to buy three CDs in order to get all of their Schumann recordings; however, the Mendelssohn SQ couplings are first rate, too, and very recommendable (although their Mendelssohn SQs were issued as a complete set by NCA, unlike their Schumann):

    https://www.amazon.com/String-Quarte...c&sr=1-2-spell
    https://www.amazon.com/Mendelssohn-Q...c&sr=1-1-spell

    --*Cherubini Quartet: excellent playing, in superb sound, at least on the EMI Classics "Double fforte" 2 CD discount reissue that I own (as I've not heard the more recent Warner reissue):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdwxyT-3XRA
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTcmqA39sc8
    https://www.amazon.com/Schumann-Pian...sr=1-2-catcorr

    --*Ysaÿe Quartet: more very fine performances, with extra tonal heft, in superb sound: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CU4J...W2m9nmXJoWbZcY

    --Leipzig String Quartet--Op. 41, and Piano Quintet (with pianist Christian Zacharias): I agree with the following review: http://www.classical-music.com/revie...tring-quartets

    --Hagen String Quartet: I tend to have mixed feelings about the Hagen's Schumann, as some movements are played to perfection, while I prefer other groups in certain other movements: For example, I find the following performance rather suave & impersonal compared to other ensembles that, IMO, find a more fragile pathos in the movement, such as Quatour Hermes & the Zehetmair Quartet, etc.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jABgJ8RKsE0. And yet, the Hagen's playing of the Adagio here is exceptional: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ws_IXFGOHI

    --Melos Stuttgart Quartet: very good, solid performances in excellent digital DG sound, which offer the attraction of 'one stop shopping', as the 1986-87 DG box set includes both the complete Schumann and Brahms SQs (most recently, the set's been reissued by the Newton label):

    https://www.amazon.com/Schumann-Brah...c&sr=1-1-fkmr0
    https://www.amazon.com/Robert-Schuma...vw_txt?ie=UTF8

    I've not heard the Takacs Quartet in Schumann, but I expect they're exceptional. Nor have I heard the recent recording from the Elias Quartet, or the Auryn Quartet on Tacet (a label known for its audiophile sound quality), the Alexander SQ, the Fine Arts Quartet on Naxos (though I wasn't overly keen on this group's Mozart), the Doric Quartet (whose Schumann gets glowing reviews), the Lark Quartet, or St. Lawrence Quartet, either--all of whom have received excellent reviews.

    I'd also keep an eye out for any future recordings from the Tetzlaff Quartett in this repertory, as their 1st violinist Christian Tetzlaff has a special affinity for Schumann's music. (The same is true for violinist Ulf Wallin, but as far as I know, Wallin doesn't play in a string quartet...) I'm also expecting the Dover SQ to record Schumann in the future, as they've played this music in concert, as has the excellent Quatour Ebene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iO4UhZuw7gQ

    Goodness, there used to be such a dearth of recordings of Schumann's String Quartets! I can remember when the Alberni SQ on CRD was basically your only option on LP, but that has drastically changed, now there's a glut. I'm not complaining... especially since Schumann considered his 3rd String Quartet to be one of his finest works, so it certainly deserves many recordings.

    --Historical recordings--In general, I'm not entirely enamored with the historical Schuman SQ recordings, finding the heavy violin slides out of place in early romantic music, along with the often glaring intonation lapses, and of course the poor recorded sound, but will admit that these groups have their followings:

    Capet String Quartet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUOzMzg9QZA
    Flonzaley String Quartet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQXczt3xB1w
    Léner Quartet:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41oWuYr_uFQ
    Prague Quartet...

    With the exception of Quartetto Italiano, who are excellent, as usual:

    1950:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H95AsLrcmWA
    1959:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08hmey8e0js

    Finally, I'd be remiss not to mention that Schumann's amazing Piano Quintet, Op. 44, and Piano Quartet, Op. 47--both in E-flat major--are even more essential among his chamber works, in my opinion.

    My 2 cents.
    Last edited by Josquin13; Apr-25-2019 at 19:35.

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    Senior Member realdealblues's Avatar
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    I can't add much, for Brahms, Quartetto Italiano and Juilliard String Quartet are my go to recordings. For Schumann, the Quartetto Italiano again, but admit I haven't really explored a "lot" of other recordings.

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    Senior Member Itullian's Avatar
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    Hello Brahmsians

    I've been doing Brahms quartets listening lately.
    These are the sets I have right now.
    -Quartetto Italiano, Philips
    -Emerson Quartet, DGG
    -Belcea Quarter, Alpha Classics
    -Takacs Quartet, Decca Double
    -Melos Quartet, DGG

    They are all excellent and I am glad I have all of them.
    This is my take.
    -Melos Quartet, Excellent playing but the recording is a bit bass shy. They sure sound great though.
    -Emerson Quartet, Excellent playing, as always, but the sound is a bit on the dry sound. Not criticizing, just my take.
    -Belcea Quartet, Alpha Classis, excellent playing and excellent lower voices.
    I love the cello here.
    -Quartetto Italiano, Excellent playing as you well know and well balanced analog stereo sound. Instruments well balanced.
    -Takacs Quartet, Decca Double, Excellent playing and the sound could hardly be bettered. Great balance and presence. Very rich sounding.

    In last place is the Melos. The cello is too light, for me anyway, but otherwise excellent, clear DDD sound
    2nd to last is the Emerson with sound a bit on the dry side. Excellent playing as always.
    The Belcea and Italiano are great sets with great sound, DDD and ADD respectively.
    By a hair, I think the crown goes to the Takacs on Decca. With full, rich, perfectly balanced sound and playing this one wins the cup.
    In fact, it's one of the best recorded quartet discs I've heard.

    If there are others you recommend I get/try please let me know. I love these quartets and am always open for more suggestions.
    Thanks for reading
    Last edited by Itullian; May-03-2019 at 00:02.
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    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    I also agree with Josquin13 that the Eroica and Zehetmair recordings of Schumann are superb (Still prefer the Hagens tho).

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    It's so long since I explored the Brahms, I remember thinking this was very good

    cover.jpg

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    Senior Member Itullian's Avatar
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    I picked this up on sale at Presto.
    It's great.
    When all else fails, listen to Thick as a Brick.

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    Senior Member Ras's Avatar
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    I barely know Brahms's string quartets, but this is my favorite so far: Amadeus Quartet on DG:

    Recorded in the 1960s - good old fashioned romantic Brahms - no hip-crap here. Fat string sound - the real deal:

    BrahmsAmadeus.jpg
    "I only have a hunch in what I've become expert." - Leonard Cohen

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    Quote Originally Posted by Itullian View Post


    I picked this up on sale at Presto.
    It's great.
    Yes, I listened to it when it came out a few months ago and I too was impressed, I meant to mention it before on this thread. In truth I think the music’s very good so I like every recording I hear! My judgement’s not very reliable.

    One concrete thing I can say about the Engregård is that the sound, lean and wiry sound, is the sort of thing which seems to fit the music.

    These things don’t get played enough, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a recital with a Schumann quartet! I’ve noticed that people who like core repertoire often seem to find Schumann challenging.
    Last edited by Mandryka; May-29-2019 at 21:04.

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    Senior Member Itullian's Avatar
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    ^^^^^^I noticed that they were neglected for some reason. But I love them.
    Since I first posted I have bought several of the Brahms & Schumann quartet cycles. Seems like there is somewhat of a Schumann string quartet resurgence going on.
    I have liked them all.
    I'll list them here shortly.
    When all else fails, listen to Thick as a Brick.

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