The listener wanting a recording of Beethoven's first group of string quartets, published together as Op. 18, has dozens of choices, but this group of three by Britain's ever-changing Allegri String Quartet lies toward one extreme of the range. Whereas many ensembles stress the places where Beethoven begins to push against the boundaries of the Classical style he inherited from Haydn and Mozart, the Allegri takes a different tack: its readings are balanced, homogeneous, and startlingly quiet. Sharp expressions are smoothed out rather than highlighted, and the quartet's playing aims at a kind of static quality that is very unusual in this music. Straightforward tunes, of which there are plenty in these pieces, are very gracefully rendered, and the overall effect is almost hypnotic. It can be very beautiful, but there's the nagging feeling that Beethoven, used to a very different bow and string sound, would have found it a bit odd. This is especially true of the String Quartet in C minor, Op. 18/4, which is generally played in such a way as to stress its links to Beethoven's later works in that key. Sample the opening movement of the String Quartet in D major, Op. 18/3, actually Beethoven's first published quartet, for the full effect, and if you like it, proceed. The crystalline acoustics of Britain's Menuhin Hall are in perfect sync with the players' musical intentions.