New Classical Box Set: Emerson String Quartet, Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon

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)

Emerson box set

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.

This set is out now in the UK, and is due out next week in the US. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

I’m still waiting for that big box set of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau recordings…

8 thoughts on “New Classical Box Set: Emerson String Quartet, Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon

  1. I’m also extremely attracted by these huge ‘complete’ box sets that are now released as a ‘last resort’ opportunity by a number of recording companies to make one last buck out of CDs. I recently acquired the Decca Rachmaninov Complete Works (32 CDs, great set) and the DG Karajan Symphony Edition (38 CDs). Although I grew up with the 1963 version of the Beethoven symphonies by Karajan (the first he made in stereo with the BPO), I find myself completely out of tune with his Beethoven nowadays. Compared to modern recordings of these works, Karajan’s versions now feel old (same with other works on this box set, especially the Haydn and Mozart). Karajan’s Beethoven is so extremely heavy and slow compared to the lively and magnificent modern interpretation of Riccardo Chailly on Decca with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig. Kirk, if you have not heard this set yet, you should definitely have a listen (if only on Spotify or Apple Music). Chailly is a magician with these works and you literally hear stuff you didn’t know was actually written in the score (it is)! I thought these modern recordings reinvented our perspective of these very popular symphonies, much like the Mozart symphonies of Adam Fisher with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra, the Beethoven piano concertos by Schoonderwoerd and Cristofori, or any Vivaldi recording by Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante. Anyway, I digress… I always respected the Emerson String Quartet but I only own their complete Shostakovich, which I find a bit harsh (probably because of the works themselves more than their interpretation). I’m also not such a big fan of live recordings, but I guess I’ll give them another try. Oh, and by the way: I’m jealous of your complete Glenn Gould Colombia Remasters that you talked about on The Next Track. 😉 I’ve been debating on acquiring that one too, but I’ve got so many of Gould’s recordings already that it’s probably not worth at this point.

    • I’m much less interested in orchestral music than piano, string quartets, lieder, and other small forms. I have all four Bernstein boxes, and that’s something like 280 discs, so I can pass on other orchestral stuff. For example, I didn’t buy the Karajan sets when they came out, because I had enough orchestral music already. Anything else I want, I’ll listen to on Apple Music.

      As for the Gould, I haven’t compared the recordings to previous sets, but I’m assuming that the remasters should be a bit better.

  2. I’m also extremely attracted by these huge ‘complete’ box sets that are now released as a ‘last resort’ opportunity by a number of recording companies to make one last buck out of CDs. I recently acquired the Decca Rachmaninov Complete Works (32 CDs, great set) and the DG Karajan Symphony Edition (38 CDs). Although I grew up with the 1963 version of the Beethoven symphonies by Karajan (the first he made in stereo with the BPO), I find myself completely out of tune with his Beethoven nowadays. Compared to modern recordings of these works, Karajan’s versions now feel old (same with other works on this box set, especially the Haydn and Mozart). Karajan’s Beethoven is so extremely heavy and slow compared to the lively and magnificent modern interpretation of Riccardo Chailly on Decca with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig. Kirk, if you have not heard this set yet, you should definitely have a listen (if only on Spotify or Apple Music). Chailly is a magician with these works and you literally hear stuff you didn’t know was actually written in the score (it is)! I thought these modern recordings reinvented our perspective of these very popular symphonies, much like the Mozart symphonies of Adam Fisher with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra, the Beethoven piano concertos by Schoonderwoerd and Cristofori, or any Vivaldi recording by Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante. Anyway, I digress… I always respected the Emerson String Quartet but I only own their complete Shostakovich, which I find a bit harsh (probably because of the works themselves more than their interpretation). I’m also not such a big fan of live recordings, but I guess I’ll give them another try. Oh, and by the way: I’m jealous of your complete Glenn Gould Colombia Remasters that you talked about on The Next Track. 😉 I’ve been debating on acquiring that one too, but I’ve got so many of Gould’s recordings already that it’s probably not worth at this point.

    • I’m much less interested in orchestral music than piano, string quartets, lieder, and other small forms. I have all four Bernstein boxes, and that’s something like 280 discs, so I can pass on other orchestral stuff. For example, I didn’t buy the Karajan sets when they came out, because I had enough orchestral music already. Anything else I want, I’ll listen to on Apple Music.

      As for the Gould, I haven’t compared the recordings to previous sets, but I’m assuming that the remasters should be a bit better.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.