Beethoven, Complete String Quartets, Alexander Quartet
(released on January 12, 2010)
Foghorn Classics CD1996, CD1999, CD2002
Beethoven, Complete String Quartets
This brief post is certainly not the place to undertake a complete survey of cycles of the Beethoven quartets. There are some monuments, however, that will be hard to surpass, like the Beethoven of the Juilliard Quartet or the Borodin Quartet, with favorite spot going possibly to the Leipzig Quartet or, in excelsis, the Takács Quartet (they will play op. 59/3 at their Strathmore concert this evening, along with some of their spectacular Haydn and Schumann's piano quintet, the last with Joyce Yang). For those (like me) who like a period instrument approach, there is the Quatuor Mosaïques, as well as some promising younger groups on the brink of a cycle, like the Pacifica Quartet.
The Alexander Quartet recorded all of the Beethoven quartets from June to November of 2008, at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York. The sound, engineered by Judith Sherman, is warm and resonant, not too closely miked to tip the scale to the raw or coarse but enough to capture the warm glow of the acoustic. My experience with this set is not full enough yet to make a real comparison movement by movement with the Takács Quartet set, but first impressions have been very strong (especially op. 130 and the Grosse Fuge, where I focused my listening this week, because of the concert tomorrow, and the other late quartets, like the moving Heiliger Dankgesang of op. 132). In any case, priced at $71.99 by Amazon for nine discs, this set is a steal, about $50 cheaper than the three sets by the Takács from Decca.