Bartok 6 String Quartets Emerson String QuartetBartók – 6 String Quartets

Emerson String Quartet

Deutsche Grammophon, 1988

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The genre of the string quartets attracted Hungarian composer Béla Bartók from a very early age and accompanied him to his final days. In fact, two of his early compositions, written in 1896, were quartets and at the end of his life, when he was already terminally ill, he sketched his seventh string quartet.

Nothing survive of the two early quartets. Bartók’s first surviving string quartet (in F major) date to 1898 and reveals the influence of the German composers: Beethoven, Brahms and Schumann. This work is not included in the canon of six string quartets composed between 1908-9 and 1939 and that exerted a major influence on many composers of the 20th century, as Benjamin Britten and Györgi Ligeti.

The Emerson String Quartet Plays Bartók

The recording of Bartók’s complete String Quartets by the Emerson String Quartet has entered history as one of the most accomplished performances of these six works. There is no doubt that such fame is very well deserved when listening to this amazing double disc set.

First of all, the recorded sound is wonderfully rich and it does not lose a single reverberation. Each nuance of the strings is prodigiously captured. It is even easier then to appreciate the Emerson’s painstaking precision, clarity and harmonious – it can be said unanimous – playing. Their colours are warm and intense, perfectly connected with each other.

The energy of the Emerson seems inexhaustible and their chiselling of Bartók’s works is remarkable for their straightforward vigour. Tension is constantly appreciable and it is really electrifying in the dynamic passages. The only downside of what is a polished, seamless execution of the six String Quartets, is that it neglects to add some more shades the lyrical or slow passages. The fact that the Emerson plays with such refinement and austerity takes away the mystery from the quartets.

In this case, however, this is a minor flaw and maybe not even a flaw. This is not something that lacks because it was supposed to be present (except for the ears of those who remember the performances of the Takács Quartet), but something that was consciously omitted to have the chance to develop other, more pressing matters. This is a deliberate choice and the Emerson String Quart is coherent in it.

Therefore, the Emerson recording of Bartók’s String Quartets is monumental for its unsurpassed technical finish and it is in its lucid, severe virtuosity and in its timbral variety that it finds its greatest achievement.

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