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Thread: Weekly quartet. Just a music lover perspective.

  1. #1756
    Senior Member starthrower's Avatar
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    Since they're both on the same disc I listened Op.132 & 135. The slow movements are sublime! That's what I really connect with.
    "In the beginning there was noise. And the noise begat rhythm. And the rhythm begat everything else." - Mickey Hart

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    I'm not sure if it is wise to get in the way of Merl's tidal wave, but here we go....

    1. Budapest. One of the ensemble's first studio recordings for Columbia in 1940. Sound is what you would expect for the era with a wiry edge, some congestion of the inner voices and occasional shatter. Still quite listenable and a good, if wrong-headed, performance. For me too much drive; trying too hard to live up to late quartet status. Their performances of the other late quartets are more simpatico.

    2. Smetana. Very early Denon CD from 1985. Denon had a poor reputation for many of its initial CD transfers (roll off issues?), but the sound here is decent. It is also a decent performance, focusing on playfulness and lightness of touch. I enjoyed it so much that I can almost excuse the 37 minute CD.

    3. Tokyo. From a large box set from HM of its widespread catalogue. Recorded with excellent sound in 2007. I have other single issue disks from the Tokyo HM series that are SACD, but this box set is standard CD. This is a great performance with a light touch when called for, but pulling on the heartstrings in the slow movement. The best all around for me of the 8 performances I have.

    4. Emerson. DG set recorded 1994-95. Again excellent sound. If the Tokyo is the best, this is the one I go back to time and again. It is muscular and in your face. I can't explain it. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.

    I did find it instructive to concentrate on 16 by itself. It is a great quartet--I'm especially taken by the Scherzo--that few other composers ever came close.

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  5. #1758
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Well I promised I'd finish it and I did. I haven't listened to EVERY recording of the op. 135 as I don't have access to ALL of them. I have tons of recordings of this, have contributed to a now defunct blog and Spotify was a great help with some of the single discs so this final summation is a mix of old notes, some shot relistens (to see if I'd changed my mind from 5 years ago) and binge listening of newer recordings. So without any more ado here's my final thoughts, leaving out those that didn't make the cut for one reason or another and those I haven't heard. My last ones to miss the cut were the Alban Berg live recording as it just wasn't as good as the studio one, the Hagens as they did it much better later and the Eroicas, who take the 2nd and 3rd movements too slowly and lose momentum.

    I know many of you will have your faves but give some of these a try. I've re-instated a couple of the ones that missed the cut as they were still impressive but missing something or with something that keeps it from the superb list. I would happily recommend any of the recordings below but the mostly impressive list would be with reservations. I would heartily recommend any from the superb list onwards. Your order will probably be different but that's the joy of listening.

    Mostly Impressive
    Vlach
    Alexander (Arte Nova)
    Schaeffer
    Quartett Italiano
    Aeolian / Gabrieli
    Philharmonia Quartet Berlin
    Brentano
    Cleveland
    Takacs
    Tokyo RCA
    Lindsays (70s)
    Borodin
    Jupiter
    Skampa
    Orford

    Superb


    Kodaly - why people don't have this whole cycle near the top of the pile I don't know. This is yet another example of their consistency across the whole set. Class. Their op. 131 is even better.
    Artemis - taut and right articulation with limited vibrato and great control.
    Emerson (1995) - a tremendously powerful performance allied with gorgeous warm playing. Another reference recording.
    Kuss - a tight, well-recorded reading from a decent, modern, live cycle.
    Petersen - strong middle of the road performance. Great playing.
    Quatuor Mosaiques - superb period performance with top sound.
    Di Cremona - quirky, not for everyone but thoroughly engaging.
    Alban Berg (studio) - Big, bold and very classy. A reference.
    Casals - although they miss some of the wit the ensemble playing is immense.
    Tokyo (Harmonia Mundi) - gentle, warmly romantic and beautiful, recorded stunningly.
    Juilliard (live) - lovely all-round account that obviously went down as well with the audience as it did with me judging by the rapturous applause it received.
    Leipzig Gewandhaus - excellent account from an underrated cycle.
    Guarneri (Philips) - gentler, quicker and better realised than the RCA recording.
    Ebene - this is such a strong reading and ticks all the boxes. Beautifully recorded and each movement is equally strong.
    Yale - warm, highly lyrical and with a beautiful flow. Well-regarded for a reason.

    Christmas Crackers (sublime)

    Talich - this is such a jolly, exuberant recording that it makes you smile from the start. Glorious playing and you may not hear a better 2nd movement.
    R-12915696-1544449595-4072.jpeg.jpg

    Alexander (Foghorn) - another tremendous performance from a superb cycle. Surprisingly, not their strongest one from their set (tells you how good some of the others are) but still top-class. The first and final movements are exceptionally good.
    81+22pgFFRL._SS500_.jpg

    Vegh (70s set) - Iove this one. The Veghs have a rustic charm in their playing that I find utterly compelling. It doesn't totally work in some of their recordings but in this one it's a joy. Listen to the 2nd movement and the end of the 4th movement and you'll get what I mean.
    R-8071870-1521750026-4143.jpeg.jpg

    Hagen (2012) - although slower than their first recording this one is much better recorded, has a beautiful depth and some of the ensemble playing is just mesmerising. The slow movement is achingly beautiful.
    R-4528068-1569436108-6901.jpeg.jpg

    Zehetmair - I think it was Mandryka who said you'd either love this one or hate it. There are some little interpretive touches throughout but rather than detract from the performance I personally love them. Like the Skampa quartet reading (another you should really check out) this one challenges you and makes you listen anew to this quartet. I really enjoyed this one. I don't know whether this will bear repeated listens but up to now it's definitely a performance that has caught my imagination.

    Emerson (1988) - if the Emerson's later traversal, from their complete cycle, is superb then this is even better. It's slightly broader in most movements (although the 2nd movement is identical in timing and sound) but the slow movement is handled beautifully and as they come out of the slow intro in the 4th movement they really let rip into the allegro but it sounds so natural. A terrific recording that deserves its place amongst the best (thanks Knorf for reminding me about it).


    Top Pick

    Auryn

    R-11160336-1571333731-6201.jpeg.jpg

    On another day any of the previous lists could have edged it as there's so little between many of these recordings but one recording just had me from the get-go. The recording is state of the art, the soundstage is wonderful but most importantly the playing is utterly sublime. Turn this one up and check out the violin sound. There are times during the 4th movement where it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end! Otherwise it's a brilliantly dynamic yet subtle performance that twists and turns and makes me want to play it again. Not everyone will feel the same but you should hear this. While you're at it try the rest of their cycle. You won't be disappointed.
    Last edited by Merl; Dec-25-2020 at 01:02.

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    Senior Member Knorf's Avatar
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    Nice choice, Merl, and thanks for the overview! I've yet to hear Auryn do Beethoven, but do I ever love their Haydn! Will seek out Auryn Beethoven soon.

    In PMs, you clarified that for Emerson it was the 1995. Give their 1988 (also on DG) a go, I'd suggest.

    Still puzzled that the Leipziger Streichquartett didn't make the cut...

    (By the way, as much as I like the Gaurneri RCA set as a whole, I also think their Op. 135 is a bit too driven, and for me their vibrato in the 3rd mvt. gets a bit too predictable rhythmically, and a bit warbly.)
    Last edited by Knorf; Dec-24-2020 at 22:45.

  8. #1760
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Knorf View Post
    Nice choice, Merl, and thanks for the overview! I've yet to hear Auryn do Beethoven, but do I ever love their Haydn! Will seek out Auryn Beethoven soon.

    In PMs, you clarified that for Emerson it was the 1995. Give their 1988 (also on DG) a go, I'd suggest.

    Still puzzled that the Leipziger Streichquartett didn't make the cut...

    (By the way, as much as I like the Gaurneri RCA set as a whole, I also think their Op. 135 is a bit too driven, and for me their vibrato in the 3rd mvt. gets a bit too predictable rhythmically, and a bit warbly.)
    Yep, Knorf, I totally forgot about the Emerson's earlier 88 lvb sq16. Apologies for omitting it. I didn't pick the Guarneri RCA performance, btw. I much prefer their sq16 from their later Philips cycle. The RCA one didn't make the cut (I mentioned it earlier in the thread).

    Edit; I've just realised I ruled out the wrong Guarneri recording earlier in the thread by mistake and the Gewandhaus (it was the Lydian that was incorrectly labelled on my HD). I have both Guarneri sets and like both but the first one is more hit and miss but when it's good it's very good. The 2nd cycle (on Philips) is generally smoother and more consistent but doesn't have the highs of the first one. However,on this quartet I much prefer the later one. Once I heard the proper Gewandhaus recording (not the mislabelled Lydian one) I included that one on the list. Apologies for any confusion. I'm in the process of tidying up the HD before I transfer it all onto a new 5TB drive so I'll sort those little problems next week. I've gotta admit this review hasn't been easy this week due to the vast number of recordings, my very messy HD and the number of quartets who've done them twice.

    Edit' just listened to the earlier Emerson account and I'm editing it into the review.
    Last edited by Merl; Dec-25-2020 at 00:55.

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    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    Weekly reminder: The pick for next week will go to Mandryka.
    "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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    Webern op 9 Bagatelles. I like the fragmentary nature of the music. Stockhausen (in his lecture on Telemusik) said that he thought that Webern was the first to make silence as much a part of his compositions as pitches, and I think these piece are an illustration of what he was getting at.




    The other thing I’d say is that, listening to this and to the five orchestral pieces op 10, is how timeless Webern music sounds. This music, written much more than a century ago, sounds as fresh and as modern as ever. These 1913 bagatelles are, IMO, just as now as Nono’s Fragmente Stille, An Diotima, written 70 years after.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Dec-26-2020 at 10:25.

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    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    Webern op 9 Bagatelles. I like the fragmentary nature of the music. Stockhausen (in his lecture on Telemusik) said that he thought that Webern was the first to make silence as much a part of his compositions as pitches, and I think these piece are an illustration of what he was getting at.




    The other thing I’d say is that, listening to this and to the five orchestral pieces op 10, is how timeless Webern music sounds. This music, written much more than a century ago, sounds as fresh and as modern as ever. These 1913 bagatelles are, IMO, just as now as Nono’s Fragmente Stille, An Diotima, written 70 years after.
    Well, that turned out nicely since I was going to pick Webern last week! I’ll give one more day to Beethoven and then look forward to getting to know more music from one of my favorite 20th century composers, and one that clicked for me in a big way this past year along with the rest of the 2VC.
    "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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    Merl: Thanks for your herculean efforts listening to and summarizing the available recordings of Op.135. I have two of your top recommendations on cd, the old Vegh and Talich recordings, and agree with your comments. I also agree with your decision to exclude the Takacs Qt. from your elite tiers. I find the Takacs usually excellent in Beethoven, but Op.135 was not one of the bright spots from their cycle; it's good, but too lightweight and almost trivial for my tastes.

    I'm happy to hear about your favorable impression of the Kodaly Quartet. I'm a big admirer of their Haydn and now you've tempted me to buy all of their Beethoven. You've also piqued my interest in the Auryn Quartet. I'll have to check it out when I get the chance.

    Rangstrom: The Tokyo String Quartet are arguably the safest choice for Beethoven. I have yet to hear a bad recording from either of their cycles.

    Thanks to ACB for recommending one of my favorites. Happy New Year!
    Last edited by SearsPoncho; Dec-26-2020 at 21:23.

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    Senior Member Knorf's Avatar
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    The Webern Bagatellen are a great choice! They're typically overshadowed by the tremendous but tiny Fünf Sätze, Op. 5, but are worthy and wonderful in their own right.

    I promised to say why I felt that Beethoven's Op. 135 might be the most profound among the late quartets, but honestly Allegro Con Brio answered it so well, I'm not sure what I have to add that wouldn't sound like I was cribbing! Well said! Somehow, it's the most "modern" of all of them.
    Last edited by Knorf; Dec-26-2020 at 21:21.

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    Senior Member starthrower's Avatar
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    I am just finishing up my weekend listening session of the entire Tokyo RCA cycle. These are wonderful recordings full of spirited playing captured beautifully in gorgeous sound. It's been a while since I listened to some Webern so I'll get my Boulez set off the shelf and see if I can find my Artis Quartet CD. That's all I've got.
    "In the beginning there was noise. And the noise begat rhythm. And the rhythm begat everything else." - Mickey Hart

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    Senior Member annaw's Avatar
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    I've also been listening to Beethoven this week. I love Beethoven's late quartets and this particular quartet is thoroughly enjoyable and wonderfully concise in its expression. I love the Auryn recording. It's very well recorded and the playing is beautiful. That's been a very nice discovery this week! I've been listening to a few other recordings, too, but I'll just write about the three I listened to today.

    I listened to Talich and Tokyo (Harmonia Mundi) recordings, which were both delightful. Tokyo's recording was Romantic and warm, as Merl wrote, but also delicate and refined. Emersons 90s recording was a somewhat shocking (but definitely not in a negative way!) experience. Their interpretation was just drastically different from all the other recordings I've listened to this week - their playing has a very strong forward momentum and sounds occasionally almost aggressive. It's a thrilling recording and, as is usually the case with Emersons, it's very well played.

    Anyways, a great choice, ACB! I've enjoyed listening to the different recordings a lot. I will probably give a spin to a few other recordings tomorrow.
    Last edited by annaw; Dec-27-2020 at 00:21.

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    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    Here’s an interesting article on the Webern (love the blog name too!)
    "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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  23. #1769
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    I approached this week's selection with some trepidation. While I possess a hefty percentage of Webern's oeuvre, I never really connected with any of his works. My copy is part of the oft-lauded 5 LP set of the LaSalle Quartet doing the complete quartets of Schönberg, Berg and Webern from c. 1970.

    I started the Bagatelles, but by the time I had adjusted the volume, placed the box set safely off to the side and settled into my chair I realized that the work was almost over. So I proceeded to a second listen. I didn't love it, I didn't hate. The quartet isn't irritating or boring--I just don't feel any connection.

    I thought that I would look at the liner notes for some insight. "...a radicalism of negativism and negation...No more critical and therefore truthful music has ever been written." No help here. But I did realize that while I've had this set for almost 50 years, I probably listened to the Webern disc once. (the other LPs get a lot of play, Margaret Price is mesmerizing in the Schönberg 2). Listening to the complete quartets of Webern, at 32 minutes not a huge commitment, led to an epiphany. I enjoyed the String Quartet (1905). Finally a Webern work I connected with. Still nothing with the Bagatelles though.

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    Senior Member starthrower's Avatar
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    I find Webern's 6 Bagatelles quite captivating. The use of silence and highly expressive string techniques is riveting and very effective towards drawing in the attentive listener. I enjoyed the YouTube performance by the Attacca Quartet so I listened to and observed their performances twice through. I also had the opportunity to see and listen to these pieces performed at a chamber music concert by the young Calidore Quartet in the fall of 2015. I had a chance to chat with a couple of the musicians after the recital and their cellist, Estelle, is the extroverted member of the quartet who really enjoys conversing with the listeners. They have been reforming for just a decade and I hope they have the opportunities to continue recording and performing in the future. I read the Fugue For Thought page on these pieces which was interesting and helpful.

    You can disregard the Uh at the top of my post. That's just a typo.
    Last edited by starthrower; Dec-30-2020 at 14:00.
    "In the beginning there was noise. And the noise begat rhythm. And the rhythm begat everything else." - Mickey Hart

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