When trying to obtain this 2018 SACD box set recently, I was notified that Audite has deleted it from their catalog, after only 4 years. Isn't that nice. So if you're looking for a complete set of Beethoven's String Quartets specifically on multi-channel SACD, snap this up quick while some sellers/retailers still have some remaining in stock.
Aside from the technology, there is much musical enjoyment to be had from this very well played set by the Quartetto Di Cremona. If perhaps not the last word in insight, their playing is always stylish, fresh and engaging - alert and crisp, full of spontaneity - with impressive dynamics, musical phrasing and sensible tempos throughout.
However, as is so often the case, there is a serious issue with the production itself. Perhaps that's why it's being discontinued after such a short shelf-life.
The problem is the layout. This 8-disc box set is simply a repackaging of the original releases (dating from 2012-15), each with its original content, enclosed in a box sleeve. Thus the Quartets appear in the order in which they were recorded, rather than chronologically. There is no perceivable logic to it - just completely random. Thus if you want to listen to them in order, it requires a lot of searching in the booklet to discover where each one is located, followed by adroit remote control action and much up-and-down activity on the listener's part. It's an unnecessary workout for the disc player's drawer mechanism, but good exercise for me!
Overall, the sound is consistently clean and clear - crisply detailed, with articulate bowing projected from within a warm, but not over-reverberant, acoustic. And the playing is very musical. One review observed these readings to be "elegant". I hear that characteristic too, but also an energetic involvement - crisply articulate and dynamic. It's a very winning combination actually, often producing thrilling results. Production issues aside, I really enjoyed them very much. And the more I listen, the more I find myself drawn into the music.
I don't like to bash small independent labels. And this isn't really a bashing - at least it's not meant to be. It's just that there are some things which seem so reasonable to expect, I have difficulty understanding the logic of what they've come up with. To go to the trouble of issuing a box set just a few years after the initial releases, wouldn't it have been a great idea for Audite to put just a little effort into it and do it right? Reorganize the content into some semblance of order (chronological would certainly be best) and make this a real contender. Instead, here we are seeing it being deleted after just 4 years.
In conclusion, as a complete set of Beethoven String Quartets, this is extremely well played, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable - among some of the best available. And that's quite an achievement in such oversaturated repertoire. Which really makes one wonder what Audite is doing.
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