25 Essential Beethoven Recordings: The Middle Quartets

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Beethoven’s three Razumovsky Quartets revolutionized the genre, so much so, that neither the works’ first performers nor audiences knew quite what to make of them. While the string quartets of Haydn and Mozart grew out of a tradition of the divertimento – music for diversion or background listening – these quartets from Beethoven's so-called middle period are very serious affairs that command the listener's full attention.

The Takács Quartet was almost three decades into its career as a quartet before it recorded these works, and the group seems to fully understand the scope of emotion, sonority and blend that they demand. Released in 2002, the recording was part of a complete Beethoven quartet cycle – the first such cycle on Decca – and it received the 2002 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance (it was nominated for the 2002 Grammy Award for Best Classical Album).

Reviewer after reviewer gives the Takács a nod for its accomplished Beethoven playing and it’s hard to argue with the point here. The ensemble finds the emotional depths of the Adagio molto e mesto from Op. 59/1 and the dramatic heights of the Molto adagio of Op. 59/2, just as they power through the fugue at the end of Op. 59/3 with particular zeal. The album ends with a graceful reading of the Op. 74 “Harp” Quartet.

Beethoven: String Quartets Op. 59 Nos. 1-3 and “Harp” Op. 74
Takács Quartet
Decca
Available at Arkivmusic.com