Best string quartets

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Best string quartets

I'm just beginning to explore the string quartet repertoire and wonder whether anyone on the forum could suggest what they think are the greatest works in the genre. I'm aware of the standing of the late Beethoven, the Bartok and Shostakovich cycles. I've heard sqs by Debussy, Ravel, Sibelius ("voces intimae"), Walton, RVW, Borodin, Janacek (1+2). Post-Beethoven, which works would you recommend? Thanks for your suggestions - it's a wide field.

RE: Best string quartets

You might sample Simpson's. Holmboe wrote a bunch and they're all on cd, but personally I don't find them anywhere near as rewarding as his orchestra works, nor as the Simpson cycle.

RE: Best string quartets

It´s a massive field and a lot depends on your taste. Most of the best have already been mentioned but personally I wouldn´t want to be without Schulhoff´s, Kurtag´s or Ligeti´s. Malipiero´s first, Ginastera´s third, all of Carter´s. Faure´s, Berg´s and Lutoslawski´s unique contributions to this field. Stravinsky´s brief but always haunting Concertino. Dutilleux´s Ainsi la Nuit, Hindemith´s 4th (released on a wonderful disc with Bartok´s 5th by the Zehetmair quartet on ECM, last year I think), and of course Xenakis´. My records and I are in different countries at the moment, so there the ones that come to mind first, but exploring string quartets is an endless adventure. Have fun 

RE: Best string quartets

Good to hear from you again, Dubrob.

There's also Tishchenko, who's written five string quartets. Four are available in recordings by the Glazunov Quartet. Can't make up my mind about this composer. Very Shostakovich-ey on the surface but somehow without the undercurrents that mean so much in the older composer's music.

RE: Best string quartets

I heard Schnittke´s 4th quartet on the radio yesterday, a man whose quartet cycle is certainly worth a listen.

RE: Best string quartets

Personally, I like the Szymanowski string quartets very much.
Here is a 7 min sample, so, judge for your self!


RE: Best string quartets

In my first post on this topic I mentioned Stravinsky´s Concertino, it´a great piece, but what I actually had in mind was his 3 Pieces for String Quartet from 1914, especially the last, one of the most wonderfully mysterious things I´ve ever heard. 

RE: Best string quartets

- it's a wide field.

It certainly is. 

So, what String Quartets would I recommend?

I guess it depends what other genres of 'classical' music you like, since SQs are just as varied in their way.

But, assuming you simply like musical excellence, regardless of period, there's a hell of lot to listen to :)

All of Beethoven & Shostakovitch.  Not that there's any great similarity of style - there isn't.  But of their kinds, they're completely masterful.

Both of Janacek's SQs.

All of Bartók - his SQs are thought by some to rival Beethoven's late ones. Whether they do or not (they do), they're wonderful in their own right.

Villa-Lobos is very good, too, although you won't often seem him recommended.

Haydn's sixty-eight SQs I can't claim any familiarity with - he wrote far too many of everything, frankly -  but they're well enough acclaimed.

And I'm not a fan of Mozart, so I'll have to pass on any opinion of his SQs.

Schubert you can't go wrong with, frankly.

I'm very fond of Schumann's SQs, although they wouldn't be thought of as his forte.




"Louder! Louder! I can still hear the singers!"

- Richard Strauss to the orchestra, at a rehearsal.

RE: Best string quartets

You absolutey must hear the Haydn quartets - after all he invented the form! And whilst the late Beethoven quartets are great (particularly Op 131 in C# minor), you shouldn't overlook his middle period quartets either, particularly the Razumovsky quartets.

If you're lookig for something more contemporary, you might want to try Steve Reich's Different Trains which is probably his masterpiece.


RE: Best string quartets

Haydn quartets improve with hearing and the passage of time. I return to them over and over -- especially the Op. 54, 71, 76. I have also just bought Britten's SQ #2 and #3, a new departure as I don't know them at all. And of course some of the later Mozart SQs too are not to be missed. There's such a lot to choose from.

RE: Best string quartets

Since no-one seems willing to suggest Mozart (why?) I will.   Try K 499 in D, which, in a good performance, rivals a Jane Austen novel for wit and depth.  There is also Dvorak's Opus 51 in Eb, an underrated, fascinating piece.    Michael Tippett seems to have fallen out of fashion these days, but his second quartet ought not to have done, and the third has a quite miraculous slow movement which, once heard, is never forgotten, though the rest of the piece doesn't quite balance its conflicting impulses.  And there is Wolf's Italian Serenade.   

Peter Street


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