When the old timers get together to hash out who has the best stereo recording of Beethoven's Op. 18 String Quartets, there were those who advocated the intellectually bracing Juilliard Quartet's, those who favored the acutely expressive Alban Berg Quartet's, those who adored the heartwarming Budapest Quartet's, and those who worshipped the sublimely soulful Quatuor Végh's. Then someone would mention the Quartetto Italiano's and everyone would fall silent as the seductive sound of early '70s Philips recordings filled their collective memories.
What is it that made the Quartetto Italiano's Opus 18 so special? It was, in a word, beauty. The Italiano's warmly sculpted tone, richly colored harmonies, and lushly sonorous ensemble made its young Beethoven appear more polished, elegant, and sophisticated than any of the group's peers. And ultimately even those old timers who preferred more driven or passionate recordings of Opus 18 would have to admit that the Italiano's performances deserved to be ranked among the best ever recorded, especially in Philips' supernaturally immediate stereo sound.