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Brilliant Classics


Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
String Quartets
String Quartet No. 1 Op.7 (1908)
String Quartet No. 2 Op.17 (1915-17)
String Quartet No. 3 (1927)
String Quartet No. 4 (1928)
String Quartet No. 5 (1934)
String Quartet No. 6 (1939)
Rubin Quartet
Recorded 9-17 June 2003, Sendesaal Deutschland Radio, Cologne
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 6901 [77.07 + 74.27]


I’m not aware that this cycle has been around before. The set is a co-production with Deutschland Radio and was recorded in Cologne, presumably for broadcast, though admirers of the young all-female quartet will be aware that they have recorded the Fourth Quartet for Arte Nova, a good programme that includes Stravinsky’s Three Pieces, Shostakovich’s Eighth and Gubaidulina’s Second Quartet.

We don’t lack for admirable available recordings of the six quartets and collection cornerstones such as the Juilliard, Végh, Berg and Emerson as well as the less well known but still admirable Eder and Takács exercise a strong pull. These supplemented by historic traversals of individual quartets – try the Pro Arte and Hungarian Quartets’ pre-War discs for frisson – offer a reasonably comprehensive prospectus of the quartets on disc. Still, the market is always open to a budget price box.

They take the Lento opening of the First quite quickly, shaving nearly two minutes for example off the classic earlier (of two) Juilliard recordings, the inaugural set from 1950 (on Pearl). It enables them to float the viola’s lyrical song with well-sustained momentum though others will prefer the greater relaxation, say, of the Tatrai. Conversely they are at pains to equalise the three movements by taking the Allegretto quite decorously with an interpretative coolness that never becomes merely bland or indifferent. The pause is too brief before the finale however, before the neatly propulsive finale. Ensemble is fine and the musicianship of the quartet strongly engaged though they can tend toward the businesslike (in the Moderato of the Second for instance or the Allegro molto finale of the Fourth). This is counterbalanced by fluent characterization of such as the pizzicato episode of the Second’s first movement and the pesante quality of the opening Allegro of the Fifth and the way the melody arcs so beautifully over the pedal of the same quartet’s Adagio. These moments – the haunting desolation of the Andante of the Fifth, say, or the off kilter folk tune in the finale or the woody sonorities of the March of the Sixth - all manage to sound fresh and new minted.

The recording quality is slightly constricted but its quality suits the clarity of emotive delineation the young quartet manages to find in the quartets. There are more immediately idiomatic moments in other hands perhaps – the highly personalised Végh, the hot off the press integral 1950 Juilliard set amongst thenbut at bargain price these are formidably fluent readings.

Jonathan Woolf


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