This is the 1st part of my full review of the Takacs string quartets. Part 2 is for the 'middle' Quartets and Part 3 for the Late Quartets.
I am a Busch Quartet Lover (as are the Takacs players themselves) so those quartets loom in the back of my mind as the standard against which other performances are measured. Since the Busch performances were loved against years of listening to many other quartets as well, it is high praise for the Takacs that I consider the Takacs often their equal, and on some occasions (op59 no3) even superiour.
There is only one existing Busch recording of the Op18 quartets, that being No.1. In comparison, the Takacs come off rather badly. They give an immaculately played, yet rather relaxed version, and the slow movement really misses the depths that the Busch find. The thrilling breakneck mad ride given by the Busch in the last movement also leaves the rather staid Takacs looking utterly vanilla. So a competent, if rather boring...
What do you get when you have the intonation and technical accuracy of the Emerson Quartet with the emotional charge and depth of the Vegh Quartet or The Lindsays?
The Takacs, already unparalleled in Bartók, take on Beethoven - win Gramophone Awards all along the way and, in technical terms: Kick ... you-know-what!
Don't trust me, though - read up on this in American Record Guide, Fanfare, on Gramophone et al. ... this is part of a complete Beethoven set that any lover of Beethoven needs, pretty much regardless of how many complete sets you already own.
The very same, by the way, goes for their recordings of the Razumovsky and Harp quartets - even though competition is even tougher in those...
Although termed "early" works, Beethoven's first Op. 18 Quartets were composed when he was already thirty - showing the maturity of having dozens of brilliant compositions behind him. Prior to Op. 18, Beethoven wrote five glorious works in the "classical tradition" for string Trio (Op. 3, 8, 9) that are neglected treasures (The Leopold Trio has two splendid recordings on Hyperion). Accordingly, the first Op. 18 quartets retain some of Haydn's and Mozart's structures and mannerisms, but slowly begin the journey towards the drama, intricacy and revolutionally textures and form of the latter quartets. One example is the unusually emotional and poinantly tragic slow movement of Op. 18 No. 1 - a piece revealing the first glimmer of Beethoven's extraordinary and unique depth that was to blossom fully years later. Curiously enough, while Beethoven was just getting started with the quartet medium with his Op. 18 works at the turn of the century, an aging Joseph Haydn was completing was to...
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