... so is said to have rhetorically wondered a deeply impressed Schubert, after witnessing a performance of Ludwig van Beethoven's String Quartet no. 14 in C sharp minor, Opus 131. And so must repeat yours truly after listening to his favourite Beethoven string quartet, flawlessly performed by the Takács Quartet, in the Lille Sal of the Aarhus Musikhuset-- a mere couple of hours ago.
The program contained three pieces, strategically chosen from the three distinct creativity periods of Beethoven, namely: the String Quartet no. 1 in F major, Op. 18, from the early period (1799); the String Quartet no. 10 in E-flat major, Op. 74 (the "Harp"), from the middle period (1809); and the already mentioned Op. 131, a late Beethoven quartet (1826). I have known the Takács Quartet, for quite a while now, for their superlative recording of Béla Bartók's string quartets (I would not miss a Bartók concert with them for anything in the world!), and have found out much more recently (why?!) of their perfect, highly acclaimed, recording of Beethoven's three "Razumovsky" Quartets (Op. 59) plus the "Harp". Hence, on the one hand I had very high expectations; on the other hand, especially since the Op. 131 is my most treasured of all Beethoven's quartets, I nonetheless knew that I would not be easily impressed... But they did deliver beyond my expectations! I have found a Guardian review of their performance from just a week ago, in Norwich, where The Takács played the same pieces from tonight (in the Nov 8 performance); that to a great extent seems to summarize also my impressions. Else, indeed, there isn't much left that we could write; perhaps, as on-site reporting, only that their first violonist, Dusinberre, was so much out there, into the music, when playing the last movements of the Op. 131, that he inadvertently used his mouth as well a couple of times-- now that is what I would call true passion :-).
Finally, since I cannot leave you without any concrete 'musical feel' of all this, I have searched all of YouTube and here is my gift to you: firstly, I have found the First Movement of the Op 131, by the Takács Quartet themselves (and there is nothing piu espressivo than this rendition here, just as required by the great Ludwig van; I have to get hold of this late Beethoven quartets recording immediately!); secondly, I have managed to retrieve the whole Op 131, albeit interpreted by a different quartet (I personally strongly prefer the Takács, but these folks are not bad at all). Enjoy!
PS. Last time I saw a performance of a string quartet close to this level was in Amsterdam, some months ago: Schubert's String Quartet no. 15, in the interpretation of the Artemis Quartet (though, for a fair comparison, one should also take into account the differences between the two locations: Aarhus's Musikhuset is more than decent, but, in all honesty, not even close to replicating the unique acoustic features of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw).