Always a dangerous statement as “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”, however, this newly packaged set of Beethoven’s complete String Quartet cycle could certainly qualify as a possible definitive for many – it is certainly a favourite for many critics. If you like your Beethoven more sweet and slow (a la Klemperer) the Allegri String Quartet may be more your “cup of tea”. On the other hand, if you prefer to hear Ludwig with rather more sharpness and alacrity (a la Karajan) we think that the Takacs Quartet will be “right up your street”. Here at The Ice Stream we are certainly more than happy to feature selected tracks from this mighty collection on our featured album playlist.
Originally released on 3 albums between 2002 and 2005, Decca has now put the whole cycle in one box set. While the CDs will bash your plastic to the tune of £34, this no lightweight collection but possibly a small price to pay for a definitve? Don’t just take our word for it – the three “Rasumovsky” Quartets album originally was a Grammy Award Winner for Best Chamber Music Recording & Gramophone Award Winner when it was first released.
It all began in 1975 when four students at the Music Academy in Budapest, Gábor Takács-Nagy (first violin), Károly Schranz (second violin), Gábor Ormai (viola), and András Fejér (cello) formed The Takács Quartet. According to their own story, Takács-Nagy, Ormai and Fejér had been playing trios together for several months when they met Schranz during a pickup soccer game after classes. With the immediate addition of Károly to their group the trio became a quartet.
They first received international attention in 1977, winning the First Prize and the Critics’ Prize at the International String Quartet Competition in Evian, France. After that the quartet won the Gold Medal at the 1979 Portsmouth and Bordeaux Competitions and First Prizes at the Budapest International String Quartet Competition in 1978 and the Bratislava Competition in 1981. The quartet made its first North American tour in 1982.
In 1983, the group decided it would be best for them and their families if they moved to the United States. A colleague offered them a position as quartet-in-residence at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and they accepted the job. This was also the year that Takács-Nagy left the group. While he was the first to go ,he was not the last and now Karoly Schranz and Andras Fejer are the only original members. British violinist Edward Dusinberre has been with the Quartet since 1993 and violist, Geraldine Walther (previously with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra), joined in 2005 – the same year the quartet became associate artists at the South Bank Centre
Throughout its long journey, the Takacs Quarter has embarked on a successful series of recordings: a cycle of all six Bartók quartets (dedicated to the memory of Ormai, who died in 1995) and this critically acclaimed complete Beethoven quartet cycle, as well as quartets by Smetana and Borodin.