I know, I’ve said many times that I’m not buying any more box sets, but I’ve also said that there are still a few artists whose work I like, and whose discography I’d love to have in big sets. One such artist is the Emerson String Quartet. Deutsche Grammophon has just released a 52-CD set of their complete recordings on that label. (They’ve recently moved to Sony, so newer recordings are on that label. They also made a number of recordings before being signed to DG, on labels such as Book of the Month Records, Composers Recording, and New World.) Spanning nearly 30 years, and covering a wide range of composers, this is one of the few big box sets of recordings by a string quartet. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)
The Emerson String Quartet is known for its incisive recordings and performances, and a high level of perfection. In this set, from Beethoven to Ives, from Schubert to Berg, by way of Bach, Haydn, Dvorak, and many others, one gets a rich overview of the music for the string quartet. There’s not much “complete” music here, as far as composers are concerned; only Bartok, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Shostakovich are fully recorded. But there’s a staggering range of music by a few dozen different composers.
The set is in the now-familiar cube-shaped box, with original album covers, and with a 140-page booklet with track listings, but no substantial liner notes. And the booklet highlights how difficult it is to shoot interesting photos of a string quartet. Each photo of the group, many of which are used on their covers, shows four men doing the same thing: holding instruments, walking, smiling with their instruments on the floor in front of them, etc.
It’s not as cheap as some such sets, but it’s still a bargain. I have about 20 CDs worth of the Emerson String Quartet’s music, but I’m happy to have this set, to listen to their recordings that I haven’t yet heard. I very much like their Beethoven, their Schubert string quintet with Rostropovich is excellent, their Ives/Barber CD is great, and I love their “Intimate Letters” CD, with music by Grieg, Nielsen and Sibelius.
I’m still waiting for that big box set of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau recordings…