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Bartók: The 6 String Quartets CD

4 customer reviews

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The Emerson String Quartet has an unparalleled list of achievements over three decades: more than thirty acclaimed recordings, nine Grammys® (including two for Best Classical Album), three Gramophone Awards, the Avery Fisher Prize, Musical America’s "Ensemble of the Year" and collaborations with many of the greatest artists of our time.

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Product details

  • Audio CD (19 Feb. 2007)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Format: CD
  • Label: Decca (UMO)
  • ASIN: B000LC4B34
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 72,268 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Disc: 1
1. 1. Lento
2. 2. Allegretto
3. 3. Introduzione. Allegro - Allegro vivace
4. 1. Prima parte (Moderato)
5. 2. Seconda parte. Allegro - attacca: Ricapitulazione della prima parte. Moderato
6. 3. Coda. Allegro molto
7. 1. Allegro
8. 2. Adagio molto
9. 3. Scherzo. Alla bulgarese
10. 4. Andante
See all 11 tracks on this disc
Disc: 2
1. 1. Moderato
2. 2. Allegro molto capriccioso
3. 3. Lento
4. 1. Allegro
5. 2. Prestissimo, con sordino
6. 3. Non troppo lento
7. 4. Allegretto pizzicato
8. 5. Allegro molto
9. 1. Mesto - Vivace
10. 2. Mesto - Marcia
See all 12 tracks on this disc

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By John Ferngrove TOP 500 REVIEWER on 7 Nov. 2008
Format: Audio CD
I came to Bartok's music through these discs and I struggled with them for a good few years before trying to come at it from another angle, and then realising these guys just weren't getting the message across (in my humble opinion).

Bartok's quartets have a fearsome reputation, both for the player and for the listener, and yet somehow they have always had a public who are determined to try and make something of them. It is as though there is a myth of hyper-modernity that has kept them alive, when much 20th Century music of similar difficulty and calibre has been let go.

The first of Bartok's quartets is not that difficult to listen to and is self-evidently a masterpiece of amazing emotional power and subtlety. After that they get rapidly more difficult. It's hard not to hear in them influences from the visual arts, cubism and futurism, and much of the historical anxiety of the times. There are several passages when you would swear you can hear bombs dropping. If you don't know these pieces then you would have to hear them to know what I mean.

As for this particular recording? It was only when I started to pay attention to Bartok's famous orchestral works, Concerto for Orchestra and Strings, Percussion and Celeste (Bartok: The Orchestral Masterpieces), which whilst clearly being modern are so much more approachable, that I found myself asking how the Quartets, as I knew them from these discs, and the Orchestral works could be by the same composer? Clearly, Bartok had sublimated the folk influences into something far more abstract in the quartets, whereas they were left fairly outfront and intact for the orchestrals.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Simon Mack - uk creative TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 20 Oct. 2009
Format: MP3 Download
Bela Bartok - 6 string quartets (composed: 1908-1938)

Indespensable + iconic 20th C angular/modern classical music: this is not Mozart....)

Well i can't agree with the other reviewer here concerning the Emersons playing and interpretaton of Bartok's essential quartet cycle. yes - they can play aggressively and perhaps without as much tonal colour or subtley as other quartets (the Keller Qrt or Takacs for instance) BUT Bartok's quartets are perhaps his most astringent/unmelodic and demanding works, + it was the Emerson's live versions i heard on bbc radio3 some 15 years ago (that as a then - mainly rock/metal+ dance fan) actually converted me to Bartok in the first place! It was the Emerson's tremendous projection and dark energy combined with their famous technique in these fearlessly demanding yet rewarding works that impressed me then + still does now.

I also enjoy the little reviewed versions by the Endellion Qrt also (on Virgin)or the Keller Qrt (on erato/apex) for a less forceful, more reflective take on this great cycle. admittedly - i need to compare the Emersons against the Takacs Qrt also now - as they're release on decca now occupies top spot in many guides.

i would suggest starting with Qrts 4, 3, then 1, then the remaining 2,5 +6. Anyway - the Emersons (perhaps like Mravinsky with Shostakovich's symphonies or Gould's Bach for instance) might be an acquired taste for more "refined" ears but this 2 cd set suits me just fine. Gramophone and the Penguin guide also thought so in '98....
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10 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Cute 'n Cuddly Bartok on 11 Nov. 2008
Format: Audio CD
I agree totally with the other reviewer, who has hit the nail on the head. I have several sets of the Bartok Quartets, and this is now the one to which I return the least often. The Emersons are a fine group and their playing can be described as "stunning" or "immaculate", but these performances are totally impersonal, and miss so many of the emotions contained within. Dynamic contrasts are over-projected and seem to be in there for immediacy and superficiality. In short, this is Bartok for effect, and Bartok deserves much better than this. These recordings were awarded the Gramophone Record of the Year Award many years ago, and I feel this is one of the only times that respected publication got it very, very wrong. I bought them at the time, very much liked them as it was the first opportunity to hear these incomparable works with a silent CD background, but I pretty soon got fed up with them and kept returning to the LP set I had of the Tokyo Quartet on the same label. If you want a set that does come close to doing the finest chamber music of the 20th century justice, you should try the Takacs (on Decca, - marginally my first choice - but I have a soft spot for their older Hungaroton set too), the Tokyo (DGG) or the recent Belcea (EMI) which is superb in my book.
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By Mr. R. J. Kohn on 19 April 2015
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4 reviews
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Superb performance with utmost technical brilliance and integrity 3 Dec. 2009
By Y.P. - Published on
Format: Audio CD
If ever there is perfection in musical performance, this recording has to be one. The level of technical execution Emerson String Quartet has achieved here is almost beyond belief. The Bartókian energy flows out of focus, precision and razor-sharp clarity in an organic fashion, not from the "rough edges" of tone production and rhythmic drive. Simply put: I have never heard of a more perfect ensemble work of any string quartet performance, live or recorded, by any group in any repertoire.(*)

That said, some people will question Emerson's interpretive decision. Every bow movement, every tone, is polished to almost maximum.(**) All the chords are perfectly blended, and sound like one chord instead of 4 voices mixed. Needless to say, the intonation is impeccable, and the unanimity in the fast movements has to be heard to believe. One may ask: Is this really what the composer wanted? I have no insight on this matter. What I do know is that Emerson Quartet follows faithfully Bartók score to the smallest details, at least for Quartet No.4 which I studied.(***) If you don't like this "modern approach", then perhaps one of Juilliard's, or Vegh's, recordings would be more appealing. However, I'd say that this set is a must-listen for its sheer technical brilliance and utmost intellectual integrity.

Highest recommendation.

Note: This recording is the winner of Gramophone's Record of the Year in 1989.
(*) In fact, as far as the technical execution is concerned, not even the Emersons have surpassed themselves since, IMHO. But of course, I do not claim to have heard all string quartet performances live or recorded! The statement is strictly about my own limited experience.

(**) This includes Bartók's "novel ways" of producing tones, such as the frequent "slide-up-and-down" (glissando), tremolos, pizzacato glissandi, col legno (buttuto). One can also hear "hurdy-gurdy" like sound at the end of the fifth quartet (con indifferenza).

(***) If you do follow the music with a score in hand, you will understand that there is nothing "flashy" about Emerson's performance. They fully understand Bartók's motivic development, "expanding and contracting wedge", and "inversional relations". The music therefore flows organically instead of relying on strong rhythm to propel forward.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Blind Virtuosity. 20 July 2010
By Confuzacat - Published on
Format: Audio CD
The Emersons blow through Bartok's most difficult passages with masterly aplomb; their virtuosity is never in question, and if you were not already familiar with these works you might think these performances were definitive. Bartok, however had a mysterious and lyrical side to him, and the Emersons don't illuminate those remarkable moments in these performances. DG's harsh sound doesn't help. I constantly get the impression that the Emersons are determined not to let Bartok push them around. They manhandle him masterfully, throwing him to the ground and leaving him in the gutter. Bartok deserves more sympathy than that. With the Emersons it is the bravura playing that will give you goose bumps, not Bartok's dark visions. Try the Takacs, Hungarian or Vegh if you want some beauty with your barbarism.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A fine music 10 April 2013
By oggi - Published on
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This is a swell reading of a great work, no surprise given the players. But for me it is second-best to the 1961 Deutsche Grammophon (as remastered) reading by the Hungarian String Quartet, seemingly a little more insightful, a little richer, a little more satisfying.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
The Emerson Bartok cycle 25 years on 18 Dec. 2013
By jt52 - Published on
Format: Audio CD
The 25th anniversary of the Emerson Quartet’s famous 1988 cycle of the six Bela Bartok quartets served as a good opportunity for me to re-visit the set in depth and compare it to some other performance made since then. I purchased this set when it was first released and over the years have listened to individual quartets many times, making the Emerson my “reference” for a long time.

When it first appeared, my impression was that the Emerson’s had mastered the technical details of Bartok’s difficult writing as no ensemble had done before, outdoing earlier competitors like the Juilliard and Tokyo quartets, while maintaining an interpretive approach that was a bit dry and clinical. This technical mastery is part of the trend in today’s classical music performance practice, where the ability of individual instrumentalists and ensembles has outstripped those from 50 years ago I think in a comprehensive way. (This is no comment on the artistic or emotional aspect of interpretation, a separate matter.) My view today is a bit different: I view the Emerson’s as still very polished in the technical sense – it’s hard to detect any flaws in terms of say intonation or ensemble anywhere in the set – but that they are not as dry and expressionless as I once thought.

This liveliness is most vividly heard in what I now think is the set’s signature performance, an aggressive, incisive version of the 4th quartet, one of the great performances by a string quartet I have had the pleasure of hearing. When compared to some quality alternatives I have in my collection, the sheer passion and energy they bring is awe-inspiring. That energy can manifest itself in the dissonant modernist complexity of the opening allegro or in the more humorous and colorful all-pizzicato fourth movement. The Emerson’s 4th quartet by itself makes this set a success.

But that impression of dryness isn’t mistaken either. The short 3rd quartet – part of Bartok’s most modernist period in the mid-1920s – is given an anemic, detached performance. The Emersons seem to be just playing the notes, not living what is intended to be highly emotional – even expressionist – musical style.

Most of the set falls below these two poles in terms of quality. The first two quartets, less interesting than Bartok’s writing in other genres from the 1900s and 1910s I think, are given solid performances. I like the way the Emersons handle the long and complex 5th quartet, despite the fact that I’ve grown to dislike this composition. The Emersons finish with a very successful performance of the 6th quartet, my personal favorite among the six. While I can imagine a more atmospheric approach to this kaleidoscopic music, the Emerson’s do well, emphasizing the contrasts in textures and moods, and the humor of the Burlesque movement.

One of the negatives with this set is the average sound engineering by DG. For some reason, DG has “blessed” the Emersons, headline artists for their label, with very average sonics, ranging from the frank awfulness of the Schubert triple-CD set to the overly bright Mozart performances. This Bartok set is actually relatively good within the spectrum of engineering mediocrity DG rolls out for a string quartet that obviously merits better.

But all in all, this remains an outstanding set containing some stellar work.
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