In a recording career spread across three labels in 20 years, the Takács Quartet has heretofore not recorded the same works twice, until now. With this 2008 Hyperion recording of Brahms' B flat major and C minor string quartets, the group has gone head to head with the 1990 and 1991 Decca recording of the same works. One thing is immediately clear: the 2008 Takács Quartet is a different group than the early-'90s Takács Quartet, both in membership and in style. With the departure of one member and the death of another, the later quartet sounds distinctly different from the earlier quartet.
Where once they were warm and mellow, the Takács is now strong and supple with a lean and sinewy ensemble and a more propulsive approach to tempo. The C minor Quartet here is more driven than the earlier account, with opening and closing Allegros that relentlessly hurtle forward. And the B flat major Quartet here is much more driven than before. For some listeners, the earlier group's recording may be preferable in the work's genial closing Poco allegretto. But for others, the later group's recording of the work's central Agitato may be exactly what the restless music requires. In other words, for admirers of the Takács Quartet, both recordings will be mandatory listening. For those unfamiliar with the group, however, careful sampling may be required before a decision can be reached. Hyperion's sound is closer and hotter than Decca's deeper and blended sound.