This is an intriguing set. First, I was not familiar with the Miro Quartet. And, second, I was a bit confused that I wasn't seeing the SACD logo on this box set from Pentatone - the label which specializes in SACD. But I took a chance on this attractive set of complete Beethoven Quartets and have been pleasantly surprised. To say I highly recommend it without reservation is an understatement. But I'd also like to clarify what Pentatone is offering here.
These are not original Pentatone recordings, nor are they SACD multi-channel hybrid. In fact, I've noticed a lot of new releases from Pentatone are no longer in SACD format. I have no idea why that would be, but I am most dismayed to see it happen. And indeed, this Beethoven box is a PCM, CD-only release. They were recorded over many years, dating from as early as 2004 and as late as 2019, and at various locations. Most were originally released on Miro Quartet's own label (and at times on other small, independent labels here and there). There is no mention that Pentatone has performed any remastering. Thus they appear to be straight reissues.
That being said, however, one would hardly know they are not newly recorded Pentatone SACDs. They sound uniformly excellent - so good in fact, that many times while listening, I checked the indicator light on my SACD player to confirm they were indeed CD rather than SACD. And the playing is simply marvelous. I will not go into great detail about these performances, other than to say the Miro Quartet plays Beethoven exactly as I like it - with generally moving tempos (usually on the quick side, often on the very quick side), crisp articulation, and superb expressiveness without overly emoting.
And there is something else which is exceptional here: the variety of the Miro's playing is endlessly fascinating and musically interesting. Specifically, their ability to vary their levels and intensity of vibrato, from the barest hint, to full-on passion. Likewise, their tonal color varies accordingly, as the music demands. Astonishingly, this always comes as a unified, interpretive execution of the group as a whole.
And finally, there is a sweetness to the sound of this group's playing (especially from the 1st violin) which is a constant joy to listen to. And the cellist's playing is superbly characterful without ever becoming gruff, which is heard far too often in this music. The performances are filled with a boundless sense of joy, spontaneity and discovery.
Given that Pentatone felt these recordings were worthy of reissuing on their own label, they must be special. And special they are. Do not hesitate to acquire this wonderful set. It has provided me hours and hours of pure pleasure, with nary a complaint.
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