Genre: Chamber Music
The Alban Berg Quartet was founded in 1971 and within a decade was established as one of the finest string quartets in the world. It is known for its large recorded sets of the complete quartets of many masters of the genre.
Its founding members were all part of a Viennese chamber orchestra, who, while getting together to play chamber music, discovered the musical rapport essential to founding a great quartet. Deciding to honor a Viennese composer in their choice of names, they selected Alban Berg, one of the members of the group of atonal composers known as the Second Viennese School. According to violist Thomas Kakuska, the choice reflects Berg's position as a member of this revolutionary group of composers, but also his status as the most traditional-minded of them. Kakuska said, "We have chosen our name to show that we want to make a balance between the Romantic repertoire and also to play contemporary music."
The Quartet achieves its interpretations by consensus, not by the domination of any individual member. In addition to the given qualities of excellent ensemble (clean intonation and a sense of unanimity of purpose, the qualities most often mentioned by reviewers) is the remarkable uniformity of tone among its four members. Its sound is a warm one, although it can be rhythmically incisive when called for.
Its highly acclaimed recordings include complete sets of the quartets of Beethoven, Brahms, and Bartok and the string quartet works of Berg and Anton Webern. The group has also recorded substantial amounts of the quartet repertory of Mozart, Haydn, Dvorak, both Janacek quartets, and works by Ravel, Schumann, Debussy, Stravinsky, and Berio. Its repertoire of more recent music has acclaimed recordings of quartets by von Einem, Haubenstock-Ramati, Rihm, Schnittke, and Urbanner, many of them composed for and dedicated to the Quartet. In 1977, they paid tribute to Franz Schubert by playing only his music during his 200th anniversary year.
The members of the quartet (which include violinists Gunter Pichler, Gerhard Schulz, Kakuska, and cellist Valentin Erben, of whom Schulz and Erben are founding members) are all faculty members of the Wiener Hochschule fur Musik and also teach master classes on German chamber music regularly at the Musikhochschule in Cologne. They have won 30 major international recording awards, representing virtually every top prize of note.
-Joseph Stevenson (All Music Guide)