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Beethoven: Complete String Quartets
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Beethoven: Complete String Quartets
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Beethoven's quartets are a cornerstone of Western music, and this bargain-priced set of all of them is wonderful. The Medici, an English quartet, play without frill or exaggeration, and their techniques cannot be faulted. From the joy of some of the early works to the torment of the last handful (and "Grosse Fuge"), they communicate all the composer's humanity. This eight-CD set is a real find. --Robert Levine
- Is Discontinued By Manufacturer : No
- Product Dimensions : 5.67 x 5.04 x 1.77 inches; 13.97 Ounces
- Manufacturer : Nimbus Records
- Item model number : NI1785
- Original Release Date : 1995
- Date First Available : December 7, 2006
- Label : Nimbus Records
- ASIN : B0000037BC
- Country of Origin : USA
- Number of discs : 4
Best Sellers Rank:
#217,347 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
- #8,482 in Chamber Music (CDs & Vinyl)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Well done Nimbus and of course the Medici Quartet.
Part of this is due to the sound engineering but it is also largely due to the playing by the Medici. They play as a single, unified voice. None of the instruments drown out the others. You can hear subtleties in the music that is obscured in the other recordings. You can hear more of what Beethoven wrote.
I am listening to these on Grado SR225e headphones with modified G pads and a Schitt Asgard II amp. If you listen with high end headphones, these recordings sound amazing. There is a lifelike soundstage that makes it sound like the musicians are in the room with you.
I highly recommend this recording but especially if you use high end open-backed headphones.
In the Middle and Late Quartets, where the challenge from big-name string quartets is fierce, the Medici are not quite as effective. Some critics say a string quartet is only as strong as its cello player since this member must be relied on to give weight and contour to a performance. If that's the case, the Medici's Anthony Lewis lets the quartet down somewhat. His intonation is not always dead-on, and in some of the more difficult music--such as Opus 59, No. 3, with its breakneck fugal finale and first movement with exposed runs for the cello--he doesn't quite come through for the Medici. This certainly doesn't disqualify the set from serious consideration; the performances are still well judged and mostly well played. It's just that the set won't be a first choice if you want the very finest performances. In that case you will probably want to turn to the Takacs on Decca, for instance.
On the other hand, mistakes by the Medici are few; maybe the most glaring is the allegretto tempo the quartet takes for the scherzo of the Opus 95. Beethoven's marking: Allegro assai vivace. Just listen to the limp impression that the Medici make, and you will realize that Beethoven knew what he was asking for. Any slower tempo drains this music of its superbly manic quality. The tempo choice throws a wet blanket as well on the last movement, where Beethoven seems to be trying out a new chamber music language before the lighthearted, almost mocking coda in the major key. In this work, Beethoven is just about to turn the corner toward his Late Period. The quartet should seethe with the restlessness of a composer on the verge of a breakthrough. The Medici seem oblivious to the fact. And surprisingly, despite their vigorous performances of the Early Quartets, their playing in the Haydnesque replacement finale of Op. 130 lacks dash and wit.
Otherwise, the performances here are thoroughly solid even if they are without great distinction. Then again, the performances of the Early Quartets and of the Quintet seem just about perfect to me. And the sound is first-class throughout. So if you want a very respectable overview of the Beethoven String Quartets at a budget price, the Medici version is entirely recommendable.
Top reviews from other countries
In my case I purchased the set of four CDs of the later quartets, Opus 74 to Opus 135 and I am very impressed with the Medici’s performance of them. Although I was already familiar with last five quartets I was less so with the other two. I was particularly struck by the Medici’s interpretation of the Opus 74 ‘Harp’ quartet. I have tended to regard this as a kind of orphan quartet that fits awkwardly with Beethoven’s other quartets. The Medici’s serious minded version showed me more clearly its relation with the later quartets.
The late quartets are very fine. The Medici’s robust, direct approach allows the music to speak directly without needing to make interpretative points for us. I know some reviews of this set have criticised the Medici’s string tone. There may be a point here, but it hasn’t given me a problem. Indeed for me this is of a piece with their whole approach, serious and direct. Smooth toned and comfortable late Beethoven doesn’t seem real Beethoven at all to me. That said, I confess a touch more relaxation in the Cavatina of Op 130 wouldn’t have come amiss. That other heart rending movement, the Adagio of Op 132, is wonderful.