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Bartók: 6 String Quartets / Emerson String Quartet


Release Date: 02/13/2007 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 000815602   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Béla Bartók
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Emerson String Quartet
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



BARTÓK String Quartets: No. 1-6 Emerson Str Qrt DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 000815602 (2 CDs: 149:13)


First released in 1990, but now reissued at a lower price, this set has received a great deal of critical acclaim over the years, and deservedly so. As far as their 20th-century repertoire goes, I’m not a big fan of the Emerson’s Shostakovich cycle, which is played with brilliant technique but—to my taste—lacks a necessary degree of Slavic soul; on the other hand, their precision, attention to detail, and keen Read more ensemble work wonders with Bartók’s leaner, terser mode of expression.


I’ve enjoyed these performances for many years but, for comparison’s sake, I dug out my old Hungarian Quartet LPs (fortunately the set has been reissued on CD by DG), and side by side listening revealed the Hungarians’ looser, albeit dramatic approach. In the First Quartet, for example, the Emersons negotiate the many small tempo adjustments without sounding finicky, and keep the music moving forward; the Hungarians take a few liberties with pauses and tempos, allowing for greater contrasts between episodes, but lessening the accumulated tension. In general, the Hungarians have a better feel for the folk elements liberally applied throughout the six quartets, and they tend to exaggerate more of the mysterious and atmospheric passages, as in the Second Quartet’s third movement, or the delicacy and wonder that opens the Third Quartet. And they suggest a sadness in the closing pages of the Sixth Quartet that is quite different from the intensity that the Emersons generate.


The Emersons, meanwhile, really dig into the many animated episodes—they take the Second Quartet’s Allegro molto capriccioso at a whirlwind speed, crisply attack the opening of the Fourth Quartet (notice those slashing double stops) and blow through the second movement like a dust storm. But speed is not an issue, since they are able to consistently articulate rhythmic accents cleanly, follow Bartók’s roller-coaster dynamics faithfully, and provide clarity to his varying textures. That they are able to sustain such a high level of excitement and, perhaps more importantly, surprise, in these well-known works elevates this set to classic status.


FANFARE: Art Lange
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Works on This Recording

1.
Quartet for Strings no 1 in A minor, Op. 7/Sz 40 by Béla Bartók
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Emerson String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1908; Budapest, Hungary 
2.
Quartet for Strings no 2 in A minor, Op. 17 by Béla Bartók
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Emerson String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1915-1917; Budapest, Hungary 
3.
Quartet for Strings no 3, Sz 85 by Béla Bartók
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Emerson String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1927; Budapest, Hungary 
4.
Quartet for Strings no 4, Sz 91 by Béla Bartók
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Emerson String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1928; Budapest, Hungary 
5.
Quartet for Strings no 5, Sz 102 by Béla Bartók
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Emerson String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1934; Budapest, Hungary 
6.
Quartet for Strings no 6, Sz 114 by Béla Bartók
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Emerson String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939; Budapest, Hungary 

Sound Samples

String Quartet No.1, Sz. 40 (Op.7): 1. Lento
String Quartet No.1, Sz. 40 (Op.7): 2. Allegretto
String Quartet No.1, Sz. 40 (Op.7): 3. Introduzione. Allegro - Allegro vivace
String Quartet No.3, Sz. 85: 1. Prima parte (Moderato)
String Quartet No.3, Sz. 85: 2. Seconda parte. Allegro - attacca: Ricapitulazione della prima parte. Moderato
String Quartet No.3, Sz. 85: 3. Coda. Allegro molto
String Quartet No.5, Sz. 102: 1. Allegro
String Quartet No.5, Sz. 102: 2. Adagio molto
String Quartet No.5, Sz. 102: 3. Scherzo. Alla bulgarese
String Quartet No.5, Sz. 102: 4. Andante
String Quartet No.5, Sz. 102: 5. Finale. Allegro vivace
String Quartet No.2, Sz. 67 (Op.17): 1. Moderato
String Quartet No.2, Sz. 67 (Op.17): 2. Allegro molto capriccioso
String Quartet No.2, Sz. 67 (Op.17): 3. Lento
String Quartet No.4, Sz. 91: 1. Allegro
String Quartet No.4, Sz. 91: 2. Prestissimo, con sordino
String Quartet No.4, Sz. 91: 3. Non troppo lento
String Quartet No.4, Sz. 91: 4. Allegretto pizzicato
String Quartet No.4, Sz. 91: 5. Allegro molto
String Quartet No.6, Sz. 114: 1. Mesto - Vivace
String Quartet No.6, Sz. 114: 2. Mesto - Marcia
String Quartet No.6, Sz. 114: 3. Mesto - Burletta (Moderato)
String Quartet No.6, Sz. 114: 4. Mesto

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