An Audiophilia Top Ten. Number 11 in the series. (My favourite string quartets)

by admin on July 10, 2010 · 13 comments

in Audiophilia Top Tens

by Anthony Kershaw

Photo credit: Emerson String Quartet

The string quartet. Many music lovers consider the string quartet as the perfect vehicle for musical expression, and the repertoire written for it — especially the late Quartets by Beethoven — the perfect expression of Western music.

My ideals for a quartet are tonal beauty, flawless intonation, expert ensemble, and, most important of all, consummate musicianship. I’ve heard many great ensembles over the years, and a few poor ones. Some have had one, two, or even three tenets, but four remains in the realm of the greats. I’m sure fans of the quartet will have their own favourites. Please add them in the comments. I would love to read them.

A few international competitions keep the modern list of quartets full. Like wine, great quartets stay together for many years and deepen their musical connections with time (and some implode, explode, and break up spectacularly!). That said, there are a few young(er) quartets I’ve heard that deserve your attention. The Ysaÿe, Brodsky, Endellion, Belcea, and St. Lawrence quartets are dynamic and exciting. Others, too. They may nudge their way to a top ten list one day. Honourable mentions of some venerable ensembles should include the Cleveland, Amadeus, Talich, Busch, Borodin and Takacs quartets. But, in the here and now, my list follows. Many of their recordings of the great quartets of Beethoven, Bartok, Debussy, Ravel, etc, are considered definitive.

In no particular order.

1. Emerson String Quartet
2. Melos Quartett, Stuttgart
3. Hagen Quartet
4. Tokyo String Quartet
5. Juilliard Quartet
6. Vermeer Quartet
7. Guarneri Quartet
8. Hungarian Quartet
9. Quartetto Italiano
10. Alban Berg String Quartet

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Brahms — Clarinet and Piano Quintets. Jon Manasse, clarinet/Jon Nakamatsu, piano/Tokyo String Quartet/harmoni mundi — Audiophilia
10.31.12 at 12:51 pm

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

marvin fox 07.10.10 at 7:16 pm

One of my favorite string quartets is Schubert the Death And The Maiden.A melodious and treasured piece of music.

marvin fox 07.10.10 at 7:17 pm

My favorite quartet is the Budapest String Quartet.

admin 07.10.10 at 9:03 pm

Awesome group, Marvin.

Cheers, a

Andy Fawcett 07.16.10 at 9:07 am

Not that they’d be competing for a place on your list, but I have some treasured recordings by the Salomon Quartet that would be hard to surpass!

Can you recommend a couple of (widely available) discs that demonstrate the state of the string quartet art?

admin 07.21.10 at 12:24 pm

Anything by the Emerson or Berg are first rate.

marvin fox 07.23.10 at 12:21 am

The emerson quartet and the orlando quartet are both great chamber groups to hear.Beethoven Rasmovsky Quartets. Sorry for the misspelling. Marvin

Nick 08.23.10 at 11:03 pm

Hello, sorry guys have to respectfully disagree on the Emerson and Berg being first rate. While your opinions are your opinions and I respect them any recording the Berg or Emerson ever was always trumped by the Amadeus Quartet. Listen to their recording of the Smetana,Dvorak quartets “From my life” and “American”. Simply the best.

admin 08.24.10 at 5:42 am

Hi Nick:

Amadeus have some amazing recordings, but I find Norbert Branin’s intonation a little suspect at times. Where the Berg and Emerson’s pitch is damn near flawless.

We hired Brainin at my music college to judge a solo violin competition. Wow, was he tough!

Juan Hitters 01.26.11 at 10:03 pm

Well, I thoroughly agree with your list.
It is a true pity that The String Quartet is not more popular in the 21st. century.
Anyway, I would suggest trying to get the following double CD:

Beethoven Middle Quartets
http://www.amazon.com/Beethoven-Middle-Quartets-Ludwig-van/dp/B000PMFTDG/ref=sr_1_3?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1296097317&sr=1-3

It is definitely one of my favorite recordings by any string quartet.
Enjoy the music!

Juan Hitters, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Photographer, Music Lover and finally Audiophile

admin 01.27.11 at 8:43 am

Thanks for the recommendation, Juan. And , welcome!

Stephen Fleschler 12.01.12 at 2:37 am

I place the Flonzaley Quartet as one of my favorites of all time. The Fine Arts Quartet was better than the Emerson, Hagen and Vermeer Quartets. Tremendous individual artists in my two added favorites.

Dr Pan K 02.12.13 at 4:54 pm

Sandor Vegh’s quartet should rank first or close, he has left a legacy in Beethoven and Bartok.

on the other hand Arditti quartet is doing an excellent job in contemporary music and should be mentioned.

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