Of course, these sorts of listings shouldn’t be taken too seriously. But the BBC Music Magazine has just suggested a list of the ten greatest string quartets of all time (that’s ensembles, not compositions). It runs, in chronological order,
- Busch Quartet (1912-51)
- Borodin Quartet (1945-present)
- Quartetto Italiano (1945-80)
- Amadeus Quartet (1947-87)
- Alban Berg Quartet (1970-2008)
- Kronos Quartet (1973-present)
- Takács Quartet (1975-present)
- Emerson Quartet (1976-2023)
- Ébène Quartet (1999-present)
- Pavel Haas Quartet (2002-present)
I certainly wouldn’t have included the Kronos in my top ten (I don’t go for their kind of pretentious repertoire), and I do find the Emerson’s impressive gloss not particularly appealing either. Who would I substitute? Certainly, the truly great Smetana Quartet (1945-1989). And probably the Lindsays (1965-2005), who on their best, take-no-prisoners evenings, could be simply stunning in their emotional intensity, and whose recordings still make wonderful listening.
And of course, I am all for the tenth entry! “Stylistically powerful and richly sonorous, the group is known for its passionate and fearless performances,” says the magazine. And certainly, the PHQ have provided some of the most intense musical experiences of my life. Here they are, from a lockdown recording last year, playing my favourite Dvorak quartet, the ‘American’. (At that point, they were between permanent violists, and are joined by their founder-member Pavel Nikl, who sadly had to leave the quartet a few years ago for family reasons.) Enjoy!