25 Essential Beethoven Recordings: The Early Quartets

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Berlin-based Artemis Quartet was founded in 1989 by four students on a crazy, singular mission: to master Beethoven’s Op. 131 String Quartet, one of the most challenging and unconventional pieces in the standard quartet literature.

It was downhill from there. The group has gone on to establish a residency at the Beethoven House in Bonn, win industry awards for their Beethoven recordings, tour the Beethoven quartets in 2010-11 and even play the composer’s music in a crowded Paris train station (see below).

A 2011 box set – a previous WQXR Album of the Week – documents the Artemis’s Beethoven performances over the past fifteen years, taking us through all sixteen quartets with youthful panache and Germanic rigor. While there's much to admire in the Artemis's versions of the middle and late-period quartets, their versions of the early Quartets Nos. 1-6, Op. 18 particularly stand out, with equal doses of wit, warmth and sensitivity.

If the Tokyo Quartet plays these same works with greater polish, and the Takacs Quartet features a richer tone, the Artemis mines their psychological depths. In the liner notes, cellist Eckart Runge recalls studying Beethoven’s nearly illegible manuscripts and noting how the “tremendous emotionality of the music leaps out of these pages in ways that are immediate and visible.”

Discuss our choices and leave your own favorites in the comments box below.

Beethoven: Complete String Quartets
Artemis Quartet
Virgin Classics
Available at Arkivmusic.com

Below: watch the Artemis perform the Third Movement of the String Quartet No. 15 Op. 132 in Paris’s Gare d'Austerlitz:

Fugues Out #03 - BEETHOVEN ON PLATFORM 17 - the Artemis string quartett in Austerlitz train station from PROVIDENCES.


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Comments [5]

the Alban Berg Quartet's early op. 18 quartet cycle is pretty wonderful.

Nov. 22 2012 10:26 AM

Yes, in fact, you can see our list as it current stands on this page:


This will give you the continuous updates as they happen too. Thanks for your feedback!

Nov. 13 2012 05:46 PM
Eugene Pagano from Long Island

When you finish discussing all 25, will you post a complete list?

A package offer from Arkiv Music for all 25 albums might be popular.

Nov. 13 2012 04:44 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawathal NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

Beethoven's symphonies, opera, concertos, sonatas, string quartets, overtures, chamber music generally ,and song literature, is so pervasive and his world consciousness and basic humanity construct an icon unparalleled to and past his own era. At Juilliard, I studied his oeuvre and , in those days, all singers learned the concert rep of Beethoven , Schubert , Schumann, Wolf and Grieg, whether they would be opera singers or concert singers . So much of our treasured masterpiece, vocal and instrumental, are unknown quantities to most Americans. THANK YOU WQXR FOR CELEBRATING BEETHOVEN !!! Beethoven's symphonies are the ABCs of most essential single composers' oeuvre of the symphonic literature. Who ever having heard the Waldstein well performed can ever forget its beauty and nuanced scope of emotions. Wagner and his contemporaries and their successors all recognized the epic achievement of Beethoven. I am a romantischer Wagnerian heldentenor and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute at 418A Main Street, Boonton, NJ . I have sung four solo concerts in the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall. As part of my Ten Language Solo Debut concert at the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall, I sang the Gott ! welch dunkel hier ! aria of Fidelio. it can be heard from the live performance on my three websites, one of which is www.WagnerOpera.com It received rave critical notices in newspapers and magazines. Rudolf Serkin and his son, Peter are among those other great interpreters of Beethoven's piano concertos and sonatas, Artur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz, Walter Gieseking, ignace Paderevski and Simon Barere, remarkable for their virtuosity, and immense ability to interpret from their own perspective. The Beethoven violin concerto is celebrated by its ardent interpreters Heifetz, Menuhin, Perlman.

Nov. 13 2012 04:38 PM
dick blumenthal from pomona,ny

the Guarnieri quartet is the one for me

Nov. 13 2012 11:22 AM

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About Beethoven Awareness Month

No composer impacted the course of Western music like Ludwig van Beethoven. The events of his life are the stuff of Romantic legend, his works permeate concert halls and he remains a cultural icon outside of classical music, turning up in movies, TV soundtracks, commercials and pop songs. Throughout November, WQXR celebrates Beethoven's work through concert broadcasts, multimedia projects, marathons and other features.