The long road to Ludwig (no, not that one …)

No, not Ludwig Wittgenstein (that brooding and distracting presence for philosophers of my generation … still, I think I’m in recovery).

But Ludwig van Beethoven.

In the end, every really serious string quartet faces the challenge of recording at least some, if not all, of the Beethoven quartets. The legacy of past recordings is simply stunning, and must be so daunting. Latter day cycles by the Takacs, Belcea and Casals Quartets are more than worthy successors of the legendary greats. More recently still, the wondrous Chiaroscuro Quartet having already recorded the Op. 18 quartets, have just started on later quartets with another terrific CD featuring Opp. 74 and 130.

And now the Doric Quartet, after some particularly outstanding Haydn  discs, among other fine recordings, have launched what they plan to be a complete Beethoven cycle, with a CD including  some of the quartets they have been playing since students twenty years ago (they have been taking the long road). As they say in a new interview in Gramophone, ‘We’ve tried not to rush into recording a cycle. We really wanted to live with these pieces: to play them, then leave them for a few years, then come back to them and so on. But we often say to each other that a concert where you don’t play a late Beethoven quartet is almost a missed opportunity. They’re such extraordinary things, and such humbling, inspiring works. We’re obsessed with them.’

I have found this double CD absolutely compelling over the last week or so. The Dorics’ performances are far too good for me to want to try to make amateurish comparative judgements; I’m being just swept along in the moment while repeatedly listening, exactly as you should be. The playing in some of the slow movements, in particular, is surely as good as it gets: heart-stopping.

Really warmly recommended, then.

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