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Alexander Quartet's Beethoven Cycle

available at Amazon
Beethoven, Complete String Quartets, Alexander Quartet

(released on January 12, 2010)
Foghorn Classics CD1996, CD1999, CD2002

Online scores:
Beethoven, Complete String Quartets
We have already previewed this evening's free concert at the Library of Congress (April 16, 8 pm), by the Alexander and Afiara Quartets, with some thoughts about the two groups' new CD together. That concert has the misfortune of conflicting with a concert that Ionarts cannot be expected to sacrifice, the latest appearance of the Takács Quartet, in the Music Center at Strathmore (April 16, 8 pm). Happily for us, the Alexander Quartet will appear again at the Library of Congress, tomorrow afternoon (April 17, 2 pm), for a special lecture-recital. The Alexander Quartet, whose complete recordings of the Beethoven string quartets has recently been re-released as a box set, will play one of the marvels of Beethoven's late period, the op. 130 quartet. Composer-pianist-musicologist Robert Greenberg, whose lectures about Beethoven's string quartets for the Teaching Company are models of clarity in the field of informed presentations of classical music for the layman, will also speak about the quartet in conjunction with the performance.

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.


mark said...

I'm glad your comments mentioned the recording dates. I've had a complete set of the Beethoven quartets by the Alexander quartet which was recorded in 1996-97. I had assumed that this was the same set with different cover and label. It's clear though that the Alexander has recorded another complete set. I look forward to checking it out.

Oscar Williamson said...

I'm interested in a follow-up to your Alexander SQ review, after you've had time to soak up all nine discs. Thanks.
L.A., Calif.