25 Essential Beethoven Recordings: The Late Quartets

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When the Guarneri String Quartet went on its farewell tour four years ago, the musicians made the music of Beethoven the centerpiece of their programs. Beethoven was a constant companion for this quartet over its 44-year ride, starting in the 1960s when it recorded a complete cycle for RCA. Those performances were re-released some 25 years later, including a three-CD set of Beethoven’s five late quartets and the Grosse Fugue.

These have always been controversial interpretations, with some critics praising their unremitting beauty, warmth and interpretive suavity while others wishing for a more taut, unsentimental approach. Regardless, there’s much to enjoy in these performances, and the Guarneri does introspective very well. Two examples: the opening of Op. 127 has a particularly enigmatic quality while the slow movement of Op. 135 registers with all the requisite gravity.

What's your favorite version? Please weigh in on our choices in the comments box below.

Guarneri Quartet
Late Beethoven String Quartets
BMG
Available at Arkivmusic.com