There were two Alban Berg Quartetts: the ABQ that recorded for Teldec in the '70s and the one that recorded for EMI in the '80s, '90s, and '00s. The first ABQ and the second ABQ shared two members -- first violinist Günter Pichler and cellist Valentin Erben -- and a common approach to chamber music -- more intellectual than emotional, more restrained than explosive, and more deep-down satisfying than superficially thrilling. But, as this eight-disc set called Das Alban Berg Quartett -- The Teldec Recordings shows, the first ABQ was more emotional, more explosive, and even more thrilling than the second ABQ. Both groups, of course, were supremely polished with an agile ensemble, a warmly balanced tone, and a strong but flexible approach to tempo and rhythm. The '70s ABQ, however, pushes harder in Brahms' quartets, finds more feeling in Schubert's quartets, and drives faster in Dvorák's quartet. Some listeners may find the earlier group's Haydn and Mozart quartets a bit too chilly and a tad too muscular, but few will find their take on Webern and Berg's quartets less than musically and expressively gratifying. Captured in cool, close, and detailed stereo sound, this set will have to be heard by fans of the Viennese quartet and anyone else who sufficiently values great chamber music playing.
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