Budapest String Quartet, Beethoven: Complete String Quartets

Archives like those for the old Columbia Records are the gift that keeps giving, not just in easy money for Sony but in new opportunities for music consumers. And now, finally, they’ve reissued one of the absolutely essential recordings in the classical repertory, the Budapest String Quartet’s 1951-52 complete Beethoven Quartets.

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This is arguably the finest cycle of the Beethoven Quartets ever recorded, certainly it’s the most important. At this level of playing and interpretation, it’s only peers are the cycle from the Hungarian Quartet, and Budapest’s live recordings from the Library of Congress—the Hungarian set is less famous though to some just as good, while the live recordings are truly amazing, objectively they are better, but the complete set is more than three times the cost of this reissue, and that’s if you can find them (there is also a stereo set that the Budapest Quartet recorded in the 1960s—it is excellent, but the earlier recordings are just a bit better all around).

If the LoC recordings are Babe Ruth, the 1951-52 box is Willie Mays, and the Hungarian Quartet is Mickey Mantle. Now, Willie Mays is one of the greatest ballplayers of all time, he just never won 100 games as a pitcher, like Ruth did. Buy this, you will regret nothing, and you will have one of the cornerstones of the Western classical tradition and of a good music library.

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gtra1n

I'm a composer and musician, and I write about music—I do that here, for the New York Classical Review, at the Brooklyn Rail (I edit the music section there) and any place else that will have me, like New Music Box and Music & Literature. I also wrote the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew book in the 33 1/3 series.