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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No prisoners BARTOK from the Emersons
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...
Published on 20 Oct 2009 by simon mack

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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Worthy attempt but superseded now
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...
Published on 7 Nov 2008 by John Ferngrove


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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Worthy attempt but superseded now, 7 Nov 2008
By 
John Ferngrove (Hants UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bartók: The 6 String Quartets (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. But nonetheless, surely the flamboyance of spirit of the gypsy/central European heritage should still be apparent? But the Emerson's were presenting something very formal and academic.

Eventually I realised that it had to be the interpreters and I bought another set by the Takacs Bartók: The String Quartets. Sure enough, these were much less stilted, and whilst still being by no means easy listening made a lot more emotional sense, and certainly could be related to the composer of the Hungarian Sketches and so forth.

I give the discs 2 stars because they created a stir at the time and raised the public profile of the quartets. The Emerson's 'famously' toured the quartets, doing single sitting concerts of the whole set. Perhaps, as they toured them, they managed to penetrate closer to the essence of the pieces, to a degree that I am afraid is just not present in these recordings.

These quartets remain at the cutting edge of modernity, in that there is still huge scope for their interpretation, and no received tradition in how they 'should' be played. As such it is unlikely there will be an unequivocal 'best' recording for a long while yet. I am very happy with my Takacs recordings but there is a reviewer on the Takacs page who describes them as big-boned and recommends recordings by the Vegh quartet from 1972, Bartok - String Quartets Complete, supposedly from players who knew Bartok, and the Hungarian quartet Bartók: 6 String Quartets, which he feels are more intimate. If I was making my purchase today I would consider these recommendations.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No prisoners BARTOK from the Emersons, 20 Oct 2009
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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5 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Superficial performances that are about as Hungarian as baseball!, 11 Nov 2008
By 
Cute 'n Cuddly Bartok (Oxford-ish, not Budapest) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Bartók: The 6 String Quartets (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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Bartók: The 6 String Quartets
Bartók: The 6 String Quartets by Emerson String Quartet (Audio CD - 2007)
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