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Want to pass on a thrilling performance of Beethoven Quartet OP. 132

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Posted on January 10, 2016 at 13:53:18
Utley1
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By the Concord String Quartet-long forgotten but truly epic; right in there with the Busch and Quartetto Italiano. The fugue movement is truly spellbinding and is the same length of the Busch. Do not know why almost all their recordings have disappeared from the catalog.

 

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I can answer your query..., posted on January 10, 2016 at 14:19:32
krisjan
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...it's because they are nothing more than ordinary at best. I listened to the first movement of Op.132 in the link below and heard patches of rough ensemble, a few intonation issues with the first violin and a generally unpleasant recording emphasizing the 1st violin at the expense of the other members (on my computer speakers but I know from experience how that translates to my big rig). Sorry to harsh your buzz but I can think of at least 5 versions in my own library that are better than what I heard here (e.g. Talich, Vermeer, Tokyo, Takacs and Emerson).

 

RE: I can answer your query..., posted on January 10, 2016 at 15:43:25
Utley1
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Hey -thanks for your directness. So here I am without an Auden wit
But still abhors the place where critics sit.

An abridged reply: A view of the Emerson and the Tokyo as groups that never risk anything both on the concert stage and in their recordings, of Beethoven. Both are in in the academic tradition of the Julliard Quartet and the Julliard school. Fairly sterile. Every performance neatly packaged. I admire the Takacs greatly but the extroverted and dynamic playing of Opus 18 through the Opus 59's do not work with the late quartets. I do not know the Vermeer.
Two other groups that get the dynamics right and almost the spirituality is the Lasalle and the Smetana, The Amadeaus Quartet has the problem of the first violin in the late quartets(gypsy sound) as to make them unacceptable.
Dynamics and spirituality is the point of Opus 132 not a metronomic calculation that aims at bringing the architecture together.
Worse than even intonation problems, the Concord actually plays out of tune.So what! But so does the Busch(could be the transfers).
The Concord Quartet understands the concept of dissonance and the rhythmical tonal possibilities and textures that the score allows and encourages. The problem of the first violinist did not show up on the Magneplanar speakers but does risk 'schmalz'
So we disagree I have heard four of the groups you mentioned live in NYC in their Beethoven Cycles.(passed on the Vermeer.) The live 'crazed' playing of the Concord(with the mad violist) offered me the most . Hardly the Quartet Italiano in its perfection and elegance but then nothing is.
This is not a rebuttal but only another opinion. Hope some others on the site weigh in. Cheers!


























 

I think it's entirely a matter of personal taste, but FWIW ..., posted on January 10, 2016 at 16:08:42
I'm on your side on this one. The Talich, LaSalle, Smetana, and Juilliard versions of Op. 132 have been on my shelf for decades with many others. I have the Amadeus, Tokyo and Emerson in other music, and heard all of those, and the Juilliard, perform in person. The only Concord quartet record I have has Dvorak and Borodin, but it is outstanding.
In general, for string quartets from Beethoven on, I prefer a slightly rougher edge and a group that favors intensity and emotional impact over the nth degree of precision ensemble and intonation. Like you, I prefer the Smetana and LaSalle versions above most others. I'll have to try the Concord version. BTW, I assume you've seen the movie A Late Quartet, a must for any Op. 132 fan, and as good a job as I've ever seen of non-musician actors playing classical musicians.

 

RE: I think it's entirely a matter of personal taste, but FWIW ..., posted on January 10, 2016 at 16:19:38
Utley1
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There is still another test and this of Opus 131. I have never quite figured this one out. The Concord 'live ' perpormance still resonates with me 25 years later. The Takacs in their later incarnation, sort of miss it. The slick playing of the "Julliard' style found in many of the groups that they trained, never interested me. Again the Lasalle and the Smetana are admirable. But the quartet remains a mystery. I heard the Hugo Wolf quartet in NYC and they played with a no hold barred style that was very moving and powerful. Thanks!

 

Whoops., posted on January 10, 2016 at 17:28:58
It just occurred to me that the movie A Late Quartet involves the C# minor quartet, Op. 131, and not the A minor Op. 132. But you're right that they are both acid tests of even the most famous groups. But maybe someday I'll hear a spectacular performance from a group of unknown youngsters.

 

". . . the Concord actually plays out of tune. So what!", posted on January 11, 2016 at 12:13:00
Chris from Lafayette
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I haven't heard the Concord performance(s), but I wouldn't be too quick to defend out-of-tune playing. You didn't mention the Lindsays, but that's another group which is notorious (at least to some of us) for its frequently cavalier attitude towards intonation. The stereo Budapest Quartet performances was another set which I found sometimes problematical WRT intonation.

I haven't heard the Busch performances in many years, but I don't remember noticing that their playing was particularly out of tune. Of course, you have to watch those off-center holes on your LP's. ;-) (In general, I liked the Busch performances, but the lower-fi level of their engineering led me to replace their recordings with more modern performances which I thought were every bit as good as the Busch performances but with far more realistic SQ.)

Another pre-stereo set which I still have (via the Testament CD reissues - I used to have Op. 127 only on LP) is the one by the Hollywood Quartet, a group who obviously paid attention to weighting and balance of the textures (not that other groups don't do this too, but I feel the the Hollywood Quartet was noticeably successful in doing so). At the same time, I feel that the equalization of the remaster is not quite right, producing a very slight tubbiness in the bass, whereas I really want more clarity in that region of the frequency spectrum.

I used to have the Quartetto Italiano performances on LP - I loved Harris Goldsmith's description of them as "the Stokowski of chamber music"! So, in keeping with that description, I loved most of all the sheer tonal beauty of their playing. After awhile though, I began to feel that their tempi were sometimes on the too-comfortable side, so I never obtained the CD resissues. If I could find the set at a give-away price however, I'd probably spring for it.

I've posted before about the Smetanas - I like their last (digital) recordings of the early and middle quartets, but, by the time they recorded the late quartets in digital, Jiri Novak, the first violinist, was losing some of his control of pitch and tone quality. So in the case of the Smetana renditions of the late quartets, I prefer their earlier (analogue) recordings on Supraphon (dating from the 60's AFAIR).

Another group that I like from that era is the Bartok Quartet - I used to have their recordings on LP and I replaced the LP's with the CD reissues (all except for Op. 95!). Tough and uncompromising - but also in tune!

OTOH, I have NOT kept up with most of the latest performances of Op. 132, aside from the Belcea Quartet perfromances from a couple of years ago, which I heard on Spotify. (I thought they seemed excellent based on my casual listening.) Even aside from the newer recordings of this repertoire, there are SO many recordings of these works I have NOT heard.

My favorite recording of the Beethoven Quartets right now (not least for SQ!) is the one by the Prazak Quartet on the Praga label. They're another group which made a recording of the late quartets right near the beginning of the CD era (on the Nuova Era label), and I was struck by how they seemed to take account of so many aspects of the music at such a satisfying and detailed level: the technical (including intonation!), the spiritual (kind of an iffy category, since my concept of spirituality might not be the same as yours, and vice versa), the textural balance and contrast, etc. The newer Praga performances seem slightly (and JUST slightly) less tight with the intonation, but they're even better recorded, and they're my go-to performances at the present time.

Another fascinating complete set I have is by the Auryn Quartet on the Tacet label, which uses the multi-channel capabilities of DVD-Audio to place the listener at the very center of the four instruments. So by fiddling with your balance controls, your can highlight a particular part if you want to isolate it and study it - a great way to get to know the textural details!

 

RE: ". . . the Concord actually plays out of tune. So what!", posted on January 11, 2016 at 12:50:15
Utley1
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ThanKs for your thorough reply. The Smetana set that I admire is the one on the Supradphon most of all the Opus 130. I own the Denon set and agree with your assessment.Hollywood is a great quartet and probably because of the poor pressings I replaced them with the Quartet Italiano. I had great hopes for the Vegh Quartet which failed to my taste in the late quartets. Likewise the Bartok: all of which I still have on LP.
I have but a few of the Tatrai quartet playing Beethoven, on Telfunken pressings. I have the middle quartets and Opus 127. They are the finest performances I have ever heard. I have also listened to them on live tapes from WKCR in NYC from Budepest festival in the 1970's. A very great quartet.
Have you any thoughts on the Fine Arts performances, available in another age on EVEREST. I remember them as very straight forward. At the time I was trading off the Hungarian and the Amadeus...so they are not fresh in my recollection.Do try the Concord if you can and giv e us a shout. Thanks Chris!

 

What fugue movment? nt, posted on January 11, 2016 at 13:05:39
Tadlo
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.

 

Typo? He must have been referring to Op. 131? [nt], posted on January 11, 2016 at 21:24:35
Chris from Lafayette
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Strange - I never did hear any of the Fine Arts Quartet performances [nt], posted on January 11, 2016 at 21:26:27
Chris from Lafayette
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RE: Typo? Or maybe 130 with 133 for the finale? nt, posted on January 12, 2016 at 06:55:27
Tadlo
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.

 

"Worse than even intonation problems, the Concord actually plays out of tune.", posted on January 12, 2016 at 07:32:27
oldmkvi
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Whaaaaaaa?
Personally, I'd rather play sharp than out of tune...

 

My favorite performances by a string quartet of today are the Cypress Quartet's 3-CD/download set, posted on January 12, 2016 at 07:33:09
John Marks
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Which I wrote about in Stereophile. Those, plus their Dvorak Cypresses CD, are some of the best-recorded quartet releases I have heard.

But I also really enjoyed what I heard from one late LvB Qt. CD by the Brentano Quartet.

ATB,

John

 

" I wouldn't be too quick to defend out-of-tune playing", posted on January 12, 2016 at 07:34:38
oldmkvi
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Thank You!!

 

RE: My favorite performances by a string quartet of today are the Cypress Quartet's 3-CD/download set, posted on January 12, 2016 at 08:15:00
Utley1
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Thanks John....Brentano is often in NYC so I will definitely go. did not know about the Cypress QT.

 

I have the Fine Arts Everest LP sets... , posted on January 12, 2016 at 09:22:05
briggs
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...of the Middle and Late quartets. It has been some time since I have listened to them. I'll have to try them again.


 

Their website has sound samples, posted on January 12, 2016 at 09:33:06
John Marks
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http://cypressquartet.com/2011/10/beethoven-late-string-quartets-volume-2-2/

 

Nobody mentioned the Cleveland Qt on Telarc CD. nt, posted on January 12, 2016 at 10:32:13
oldmkvi
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/

 

RE: I have the Fine Arts Everest LP sets... , posted on January 12, 2016 at 10:50:44
Utley1
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Thanks Briggs. Abandoned my set a long time ago, in transit, unfortunately.

 

Fine Arts Quartet -- and a Pleasant Surprise , posted on January 12, 2016 at 13:34:24
briggs
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I pulled the Fine Arts sets and decided to listen to Op. 59 No. 3, as I am more comfortable with the Middle Quartets and my wife is at home. She does not much care for Op. 130 and cannot abide the Grosse Fugue.

I think your recollection of the Fine Arts performances being straightforward is accurate, if by that term you mean -- as I use it -- that they play the music and pretty much stick to (the formidable) business. I found it very agreeable, with no notable performance problems. The recording was on the bright side. A more rigorous critique is beyond my competence. I plan on listening to their Op. 130 (with both last movements) this weekend, when my wife has other plans, and...

Browsing my Beethoven Quartet LPs I found I have the Supraphon recording of the Smetana Quartet's Op. 130, reissued on the Quintessence label. There is a price tag on the jacket indicating that I bought it a local Goodwill for $1.00, and apparently put it in my Beethoven Quartet area, unplayed. I am looking forward to an interesting weekend.






 

RE: Fine Arts Quartet -- and a Pleasant Surprise , posted on January 12, 2016 at 13:41:31
Utley1
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IN IT IS THE BEST OF THEIR PLAYING- AND THE FUGUE IS WICKED....Thanks. I am very unhappy that I gave up the set bad pressings and all.(very neurotic)

 

RE: Typo? Or maybe 130 with 133 for the finale? nt, posted on January 12, 2016 at 13:48:21
Utley1
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No just plain wrong. Carelessness! A three part choral(Canonza) even with inversions is not a fugue. Was not thinking. The movement has always been described as fugue 'like' . No excuse. Tadlo is right!

 

RE: Fine Arts Quartet -- and a Pleasant Surprise , posted on January 12, 2016 at 13:52:48
Utley1
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Also eager to hear your comparison of the two OpUS 130's. The Fine Arts may have performed the fugue separately, sticking to traditional performance practice as was custom before the middle 1970's. Thanks!

 

Another set I missed - has it held up well? [nt], posted on January 12, 2016 at 15:23:01
Chris from Lafayette
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RE: My favorite performances by a string quartet of today are the Cypress Quartet's 3-CD/download set, posted on January 13, 2016 at 19:27:44
learsfool
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The Cypress Quartet is perhaps the most underrated quartet today. Full disclosure, the first violinist is an old schoolmate. But anyone who has not checked them out, should.

 

RE: The Italiano, posted on January 24, 2016 at 15:35:50
goldenthal
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I agree with you, though I am not sure that "comfortable" is the term I'd use. But I find similarly to you particularly in re the Op. 18 #s 1-4, the Op. 59 #s 2 and 3, and the Op. 130 Presto. For the rest, I feel that the Italiano is right up there with the pre-stereo Budapest. Other great (not always complete) performances can be had from the Yale, the Berg, and the New Music.


Jeremy

 

I like Quartetto Italiano and the ABQ interpretations, posted on January 8, 2017 at 14:39:59
Jay Buridan
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Takacs has its moments but they miss the mark in Movement III (Molto Adagio; Andante) which is unforgiveable.

 

Just ordered the Prazak set from deepdiscount.com, posted on January 11, 2017 at 19:27:27
Jay Buridan
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For $54.40 with the 15% off coupon, it's the best deal going.

 

The Amadeus Quartet is no slouch, either, posted on January 18, 2017 at 16:21:40
Jay Buridan
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Just borrowed it from my local library.

 

Yale Quartet, posted on January 18, 2017 at 18:57:05
pbarach
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They did a fabulous set of the late quartets for Vanguard Cardinal that are still in print at $13 for the 3-disc set at arkivmusic.com.

 

Barylli and Hungarian Quartets, posted on January 19, 2017 at 18:23:34
bald2
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Both extraordinary. My other votes go to the Bartok and Vegh recordings.

Harry

 

Hungarian mono set..., posted on January 20, 2017 at 06:39:35
Kas
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...is about to be reissued in remastered form:

 

RE: Hungarian mono set..., posted on January 20, 2017 at 21:14:28
bald2
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Great news! Thanks:)

Harry Z

 

The Tokyo String Quartet with Oundjian is no slouch, either, posted on January 22, 2017 at 14:13:18
Jay Buridan
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Just borrowed this set from my local library

 

RE: The Tokyo String Quartet with Oundjian is no slouch, either, posted on January 22, 2017 at 15:59:47
I attended one of the first recitals the Tokyo SQ gave with Oundjian. He was obviously a great violinist but stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb. Then, years later, near the time the recordings you cite were made, they performed all of the Beethoven quartets in a series of recitals at Carnegie Hall in NY, one of which I was able to attend.
By then, he had completely assimilated into the quartet and mastered the "Tokyo sound". They sounded exactly like the original group. Glorious.

Seated a few rows in front of me was the late Robert Mann. During intermission he stood, turned around and beamed at the packed house. It must have been gratifying for him to see the success of his young mentees (now retired themselves!) and the music he cared so deeply about.

 

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