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Thread: Weekly quartet. Just a music lover perspective.

  1. #1726
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Thanks SP for picking Dvorak's 14rh quartet, this week, aa you've helped me find a few gems that I'll soon be returning to. Again, there were plenty of interesting performances to consume and I've tried to sum my favourites up below. Shame I never got to hear the Hagen recording. I was looking forward to that one. Anyway, here goes. I hope you folks have found a recording you didn't know previously, too.

    Impressive

    Panocha 83
    Stamitz
    Smetana 56
    Vogler
    Lindsays
    Delme
    ABQ (studio and live)
    Moyzes
    Guarneri

    More Special

    Melos
    Panocha 2003
    Emerson
    Cleveland
    Takacs

    A Pure Delight

    Janacek Quartet

    51N6wUQDMpL._SY400_.jpg

    So glad I discovered this one. Its a quite delightful performance that's charming and articulate in equal measure. A hair-width away from the top and superb.

    MY PICK

    Szymanowski Quartet

    81vyF8aoGVL._SS500_.jpg

    As I stated earlier in the thread this performance is just so organic and natural. It combines passion, power and delicacy in a lovely account that almost feels like they're making it up as they go along. Nothing sounds planned or mannered and this is top of my purchase list but for now I'll settle with listening in Spotify. I can't recommend this one enough. As for Hurwitz claiming that only Czechs can play Czech quartets impressively.. . well all I can say is "Boll*cks"!
    Last edited by Merl; Dec-19-2020 at 12:17.

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  3. #1727
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    Thanks, Merl! I'll have to hear the Szymanowski Quartet's recording. I already knew and enjoyed the Panocha and the Prague St.Qt., and I found the Cleveland extremely enjoyable. As I might have previously indicated, I'm not sure if it's very idiomatic, but I love it and, as you might say, it's "meaty, beaty, big and bouncy." It gave me a feeling inside I can't explain. We appreciate your posts and insight.
    Last edited by SearsPoncho; Dec-19-2020 at 19:58.

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  5. #1728
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SearsPoncho View Post
    Thanks, Merl! I'll have to hear the Szymanowski Quartet's recording. I already knew and enjoyed the Panocha and the Prague St.Qt., and I found the Cleveland extremely enjoyable. As I might have previously indicated, I'm not sure if it's very idiomatic, but I love it and, as you might say, it's "meaty, beaty, big and bouncy." It gave me a feeling inside I can't explain. We appreciate your posts and insight.
    Yeah i listened to all the Cleveland disc. Their approach works great in the 14th performance but their American quartet is less successful on the same disc. Sometimes happens. I found their 14th just so appealing though. Played with great verve and, as you said, SP, it sounds like they're enjoying themselves.

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    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    Alright, well, a lot of you are going to be ready to call me “Boring ACB” after this one, because I’m not going for anything obscure or off-the-charts here. I considered doing so - if you must know, my second choice was either Berg’s Lyric Suite or Webern’s quartet because I thought it might be appropriate to cap off a year where I fell in love with the Second Viennese School - but in the end it’s Christmas week, and I hope everyone will be able to enjoy some sort of time with family and friends in this most unusual of years. So I wanted to keep it relatively short, sweet, and uninvolving because I won’t be listening to quite as much music as I usually do this week. Yeah, I know we’ve just had the tuneful Gade and Dvorak, but, oh well, new adventures will happen in the new year. Also, this week was a certain someone’s 250th birthday, so...

    Beethoven - String Quartet No. 16 in F Major (1826)

    Beethoven’s final quartet has always struck me as the perfect anti-statement after the four that preceded it, which are, IMO, the apotheosis of all quartet literature. It’s like at the end of the day, after all the eternal heights that he scaled in his late works, he sat back, wiped off his hands, and decided to call it a life by returning to the roots of the Classical period that he had just singlehandedly rejected. The “Must it be? It must be!” in the finale seems more like a witticism than any sort of philosophical inquiry. This was, in fact, the last complete work that he ever composed, six months before his death.

    I. Allegretto (F major, sonata form)
    II. Vivace (F major, scherzo/trio)
    III. Lento assai, cantante e tranquillo (D♭ major, theme and variations)
    IV. "Der schwer gefaßte Entschluß". Grave, ma non troppo tratto ("Muss es sein?") – Allegro ("Es muss sein!") – Grave, ma non troppo tratto – Allegro (F minor – F major)

    A short listening guide can be found on AllMusic.

    Obviously there are oodles of Beethoven quartet cycles out there, so I’ll be focusing on a few ensembles that I am not familiar with in Beethoven so I can expand my horizons a bit. Trout did a recommended recordings list for the 14th quartet, but all of these ensembles have recorded at least all the late quartets, and it might be a helpful resource so here you go:

    1. Busch Quartet (1936)
    2. Végh Quartet (1974)
    3. Takács Quartet (2004)
    4. Alban Berg Quartet (1989)
    5. Quartetto Italiano (1969)
    6. Juilliard String Quartet (1960)
    7. Yale Quartet (1971)
    8. Smetana Quartet (1971)
    9. Lindsay String Quartet (1984)
    10. Budapest String Quartet (1942)

    I hope, despite my “safe” choice, that we can have a bit of fun with this. I think 2020 ought to end just like Beethoven’s career - lots of struggle, uncertainty, and unforeseen horizons, but an unpretentious return to basics at the end of it all. I sincerely wish everyone a very happy holiday season! Well, maybe Merl won’t have one since I’ve forced him to listen to, according to my streaming service, all 95 recordings of this quartet this week...better get busy, my friend! We’re all expecting a top 30 ranking by next Saturday
    "If we understood the world, we would realize that there is a logic of harmony underlying its manifold apparent dissonances." - Jean Sibelius

    "Art is an attempt to transport into a limited quantity of matter, modeled by man, an image of the infinite beauty of the entire universe." - Simone Weil

    "Ceaseless work, analysis, reflection, writing much, endless self-correction, that is my secret." - Johann Sebastian Bach

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  9. #1730
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    Yes!

    ACB: Never, ever apologize for choosing Beethoven. As far as I'm concerned, I would happily participate in sixteen consecutive weeks of Beethoven's quartets. I have cds of Op.135 from the first six quartets on your list. This should be interesting and, yes, Merl will have his hands full.

    Happy holidays to you and yours!

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    Senior Member BlackAdderLXX's Avatar
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    Dude. Great pick. Thank you for picking something cool.
    I'm realizing that my answer to the "favorite recording" question is usually Bruno Walter.

  11. #1732
    Senior Member BlackAdderLXX's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SearsPoncho View Post
    Yes!

    ACB: Never, ever apologize for choosing Beethoven. As far as I'm concerned, I would happily participate in sixteen consecutive weeks of Beethoven's quartets.
    Agree on both points
    I'm realizing that my answer to the "favorite recording" question is usually Bruno Walter.

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  13. #1733
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    This was the moment I was dreading but also looking forward to. I'm just glad it's not its not op. 18. There are stacks of recordings of the early quartets too! Thanks ACB. Lol. Luckily I'm off from Tuesday night so I might get through them if I'm lucky but I`ll have to be more concise but I can be pretty selective as I own a huge number of sets already that haven't got strong 16ths. I can tell you right now that my list will look nothing like Trout's rather predictable list (there's two recordings on there, straight away, that wouldn't even make it into my top 30 recordings!) However there are some great ones there too. This should be interesting. I'll start listening today. Good lord!

    Thankfully, it's one of the shorter quartets (although some quartets drag it out to almost 30 minutes). The average is around 25 mins with the quicker performances around 22 minutes. As I have a ridiculous number of complete sets (some if which I'm very familiar with) this may turn into a marathon so bear with me. I was gonna say Beethoven never heard it being performed but that's just cruel. Lol. His great friends the Schuppanzigh Quartet knocked out the first performance a year after Beethoven's death.

    I think I'm going to have to raid the hard drive later and get some recordings on my car USB.
    Last edited by Merl; Dec-20-2020 at 11:52.

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  15. #1734
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Right, I'm going to kick this off and throw some recordings under the bus, straight away, not because they're bad but there are so many better ones out there that these are uncompetitive for me. Some of you may baulk at some of these and one in particular but it's what I think so don't shoot me. I also have to get rid of a lot of recordings quickly so this will help me focus on the ones I prefer. So here goes..... These are out for me....

    Vegh 52 - the Veghs did it all far better in their later recordings and without this dull, flat sound.
    Taneyev - Too slow and dull
    Hollywood (live) - terrible sound
    Medici - a very plain performance. Too indistinctive.
    Hungarian - boxy recording
    Budapest (live) - some flubs, scratchy violins and terrible recorded sound complete with dropouts.
    Budapest (stereo) - some very distinctive playing but bad intonation spoils it for me.
    Barylli - haven't got a clue how to play the late quartets. Much better in the earlies

    And finally I'm going to address the elephant in the room and this one is VERY contentious as I know some of you think this is THE performance to have. The Busch's legendary 1936 performances may be heaven to many but I'm afraid they've never floated my boat. For all the undoubted technical skill I've never got past the horrid sound (and yes I've heard every remaster you can think of). It may seem like sacrilege to some but it's not just the sound. Interpretively I prefer others. Right I've got that one outta the way. I expect a backlash from some but I don't care, tbh. As I said earlier, these are not (mostly) performances I dislike. I just much prefer others and want to focus on those ones. .
    Last edited by Merl; Dec-20-2020 at 17:04.

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  17. #1735
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Fortunately I've found my old reviews of op. 135 that I contributed to a music blog 5 years ago so I'll delve into those and do some relistening and comparing and contrasting of newer recordings too. Hence, I'm also going to leave out the Vanbrugh and Brodsky recordings. Again both are perfectly decent but the Brodskys are better in op. 132 and the Vanbrughs in the early quartets. The Fine Arts Quartet are well regarded in the late quartets but I don't feel they handle the dynamic contrasts as well as others. It's a beautiful approach but personally I want more clout from my Beethoven recordings. The Pascals have some intonation issues, the Endellion are too slow and lax in this one and the Amadeus quartet's first violin has a quite coarse sound that I've never found pleasing across the whole cycle. More to follow.
    Last edited by Merl; Dec-20-2020 at 17:05.

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    Senior Member sbmonty's Avatar
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    Excellent choice! I was hoping we could return to Beethoven again soon. Thanks ACB! Looking forward to Merl's summary of this one very much as well.
    Happy and safe holidays to all.

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    The last time I listened to this strange quartet -- is it a return to Haydn values? -- Hagen seemed to have bitten it off more thoughtfully than any other ensemble I knew -- there are at least three recordings by them, Myrios, DG and a DVD. DVD especially good IMO, may be on YouTube, looks like there’s some performance from them there.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Dec-20-2020 at 15:09.

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  23. #1738
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    I almost never listen to the 16th outside of a survey of all the late quartets, so I will enjoy letting it stand on its own merits. From my recordings I'll take on the Budapest (studio 1940), Smetana (1985), Emerson (1995) and Tokyo (2007).

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  25. #1739
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Much as I love the Italiano's set they still take the 2nd movement too slowly for me so the rhythms don't dance. Their playing is glorious but I prefer others in this quartet. The Juilliards from 63 are dogged by iffy sound and are interpretively not strong enough. Alternatively the LaSalle quartet play beautifully but the heavy use of vibrato gets a bit wearing in this one (it needs a lighter touch) so it doesn't make the shortlist even though I like ot. I feel the same about the Melos' ' 1984 recording which is quite lovely but is over-reliant on vibrato. Another recording I'm ruling out (even though I love their RCA set) is the Guarneri quartet who take the 3rd movement way too sluggishly. I love their sound and much of the cycle but whilst this performance works on the set it falls down when compared to others . Another one that doesn't make my 'best of' list, but is decent enough, is the Leipziger quartet (another cycle I admire) who strangely speed up in the 2nd movement and spoil the performance. I'm ruling out the Alexander's first Arte Nova recording of this quartet as I feel its better recorded and played on the Foghorn set but again this is a very fine version.

    I still have plenty more from my old notes to add and then I'll say which ones I really like (I've just listened to a cracker I didn't have) and then narrow down from there.

    Btw, Mandryka, I didn't know about a 3rd Hagen recording. I know the ones from 1990 anf 2012 but didn't know of another. I'll have to look for that. Thanks!
    Last edited by Merl; Dec-20-2020 at 18:31.

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    Just looking over my notes, which go back to 2014, apart from Hagen, the ones which stood out for me when I was exploring this stuff were the first Juilliard, an RCA Victor Red Seal LP; The Janacek Quartet and a notch below a live one from The Budapest Quartet -- Library of Congress concert in 1941. I can let anyone who wants have the Juilliard and Janacek, which may be very hard to find.

    The strange one is Zehetmair Quartet, bumpy ride, I'm not sure if it is a terrible failure or a resounding success.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Dec-20-2020 at 19:51.

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